Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our house. Last year we celebrated in this house with no carpet, no cabinets, no paint.

This year, we celebrate knowing we have survived this last year and that we are HOME. Kellen got a coupe car and a Little People farm, among other things. We got books and DVDs and some house things. It's still a little bit of replacement, a little bit of new. That's the way it goes, and I'm not sure it will ever be different.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am sending out Christmas/holiday cards. I had been thinking I would send a letter. We wanted to update people on us moving back into our home in February (in case they don't read this blog, which of course everyone DOES, right?!). But the more I tried to write the letter, the more I couldn't. The only thing I could come up with was:

"Thank god 2009 is almost over. While we DID move into our house in February, we still often feel unsettled and are working hard on making this 'our' house. On top of trying to get settled, Brooke spent most of the last year dealing with PTSD (and still has nightmares about fires and freaks out when she hears a fire truck or sees smoke) and other health issues. Among them, we learned that she has Lyme disease and has started a ridiculous course of antibiotics. If that wasn't enough, Brooke's family has also suffered health setbacks including two brain surgeries for her aunt, a bought of H1N1 for nearly everyone including one hospitalization for pneumonia complications, and a stroke for her grandmother. Margaret died on November 25th, the day
before Thanksgiving. If that wasn't enough, Dan developed a painful hernia last week and is now recovering from surgery. 2010 will be a welcome change, and we hope it brings a change of fortunes. Thank you for your continued support. Wishing the best for you and your families this holiday season."

Not exactly the festive "We love our life and new house" letter people want. So we just sent a card with a picture. This one:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ask and you shall receive

I've said before how difficult it is for me to ask for help. I was raised to believe I can do everything... and I can do it by myself. Or maybe it is in my genes.

But I was at rock bottom. I was out of options.

And in asking for help, I have been blessed. Blessed by my neighbors who came over to check on us after reading this blog and then who picked up some groceries for us so that Kellen had fruit this morning for breakfast, which is about the only thing he is eating right now. Blessed by another neighbor who took Kellen to his gymnastics class this morning and then is running errands with him until noon. Blessed by friends, near and far, who have asked how *they* can help.

I am not alone. I do not have to bare these challenges alone. And I am just so thankful that there are so many who are willing to help us through them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Asking for Help

You would think I would be better about asking for help given how much help we needed last year. I would think I would be better about it too.

I'm learning that I'm not.

I was talking to my neighbor, and she told me that I always acted like I had everything together, handled. I don't. I'm always about three seconds from my breaking point and wondering what the best route to Intermountain (the psych hospital) is. I say that only half in jest... and maybe less.

I keep wondering where exactly my breaking point is. At what point is THIS the thing that will send me over the edge. But then I remember that no one said I had to do any of this alone.

Community. That word has come to define the last 15 months. Whether it's an online community who rallies behind me every time I get one more piece of bad news or my Stroller Strides community, members whom I have never met offering to bring us dinner, it's community. We build them for protection, so that in these moments (and hopefully, in those really HIGH moments too) we can band together and survive.

It doesn't mean I'm any better though at telling my communities that I am desperate. I am desperate. I am in survival mode, hoping that I can just get through this next task with myself held together. I think often of moments of peace where I can think, process. I need a place to process everything that has happened this last year+. I'm hoping that the skies will clear soon to give me that space.

In the meantime, I need help.

** And as a follow-up, Dan's surgery went well, and he is home recovering. The doctor called today for us to schedule Kellen's surgery (which will be exactly the same), but I am going to wait until things ease up so I can be there fully for Kellen. There is no hurry; it just needs to get done.

Friday, December 11, 2009


The hits just keep coming.

My dad had shoulder surgery this week from a ruptured tendon that has been bothering him for a few months now.

On Wednesday we had to take Dan to the emergency room because he had what appeared to be a hernia. The ER dr. sent us home saying it wasn't. We had to see the urologist for Kellen on Thursday (who also needs surgery), and he confirmed that it was, in fact, a hernia. We saw the surgeon today, and because of the intense pain Dan is in and the fact that the hernia is getting harder to push back in, Dan needs surgery as soon as possible.

That would be tomorrow. Any good thoughts you could spare would be great. We don't expect any complications, but it's always nice to know that people are thinking of us as we go through these challenges.

I am learning to take each day as it comes and accept the challenges that are presented. As my step-mom said, "It would just be nice if the challenges would slow down a little bit."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A few words on decorating

I spent a lot of time getting things, reorganizing, redecorating, and designing at the old house. We repainted every wall in our house, and sometimes we even repainted after we repainted. We picked out light fixtures. Everything took a lot of thought... and time. It took us two years, but we had finally gotten the house the way we wanted it.

And then the fire. The problem I've had is that in looking for furniture, I have wanted to replace what we lost or recreate the room we had. That would have worked for the most part if we had rebuilt the same house. But we didn't.

And I am finding that the things I wanted to replace what I HAD do not necessarily go in the new house. I wished that we had waited a few months after moving in to get some of the bigger furniture pieces. I understand why we didn't. We just wanted to be home, feel settled. That feeling, though, was more about time than it was about having our house finished, though I didn't fully comprehend that at the time. I just put away the stocking holders that I loved because I don't have a place for them really to go. I realized that the stairway is a better spot for the stockings in this house.

So we are reworking, redecorating, rearranging. And I am accepting that just because it WAS, doesn't mean it always has to be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas pictures

I have been spending many days at my grandmother's helping sort through her things. I have many thoughts on that I am hoping to share soon.

We're also working hard on getting our house ready for Christmas. I can't believe one week is already gone and just hope I have the time to enjoy this season as it's my favorite.

Dan installing the lights:

The house:

Kellen helping make gingerbread:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I have been meaning to write this post for a month. November just was one of those months, and it culminated in a bout of hives, which I am hoping are now gone.

Some people have shoe fetishes. I have a sock obsession. I love socks, love them. I have a few pair of plain white socks for working out, but that isn't the bulk of my sock collection. Most of my socks are well thought out purchases, in a variety of colors for all matching possibilities. Arguile, polka dotted, floral, BSU themed...

Before the fire, I would pick up socks here and there over time. But after the fire, I had no socks. So I bought a lot of them at once. It's a year later, and they all have holes in them.

I guess I should be glad that I've owned something long enough to get holes (it's like the lightbulbs!), but it's a real bummer that they are all getting holes at the same time. Before, they were staggered, and now they are all just worn. I am trying to stagger buying new socks this next year so that I don't have a major sock disaster every fall, but it's hard when you need socks now. And sadly, I really liked a lot of my socks that are now being tossed (and darning them isn't really an option because 1) I don't have anything to repair them with and 2) the bottoms are worn out in more than just the spots with holes and 3) I don't like the feel of them!)

In other news, I was just alerted to another family on my parenting board who lost their home over Thanksgiving while they were out of town. They have two young children, and I just feel for them. It also brings back a lot of emotions about those first few weeks... and then the months that followed. It reminds me of how important it is for me to work on the online fire resource as soon as I am healthy. Because people need direction, help, support.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In memory

Margaret Bailey

Margaret Vandenburg Linville Bailey, 82, died peacefully at home surrounded by her family in Boise on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 after suffering a recent stroke. Services will be held at 1:00 pm on Saturday, November 28, 2009 at the First United Methodist Church (Cathedral of the Rockies), at 717 N. 11th Street in Boise, followed by interment at Dry Creek Cemetery. Arrangements are under the direction of Alden-Waggoner Funeral Chapel, Boise. Margaret was born on January 12, 1927 and lived in Boise for most of her life. As the daughter of Stewart C. Vandenburg and Edna Tussing Vandenburg, Margaret grew up on Harrison Boulevard and graduated from Boise High School. She earned her B.A and M.A in education from Stanford University, where she met her first husband, Robert G. Linville Jr. She taught Physical Education to high school girls in South San Francisco and in Glenns Ferry, Idaho before returning to Boise in 1956. Margaret and Robert were divorced in 1978. Four years later she married Morton Bailey. Margaret and Morton spent many happy and wonderful years together traveling and golfing until his death in 1998. Service to community and love for her family were the hallmarks that guided Margaret's life. She was a very spiritual person and a lifelong member of the First United Methodist Church, serving in many volunteer positions. She also served on the Boise Family YMCA Board of Directors, was a 50 year member of Chapter "A" P.E.O., the Junior League of Boise, and a scout leader in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. In the community or as a church volunteer, Margaret was cherished for her compassion, reliability and dependability. Whenever she agreed to help with an event or project, everyone involved knew that her duties would be completed correctly, on time, and under budget. She was an optimistic, complimentary and loving person who shared freely of her talents and her positive attitude with all those around her. She had many devoted and lifelong friends with whom she spent many happy days. As an Idaho girl and a physical education major, Margaret engaged in and promoted many forms of exercise and outdoor recreation. She loved the rugged and natural beauty of Idaho's outdoors. She was particularly fond of spending time at the family cabin in Grandjean, Idaho during her summers, where she presided over and directed family activities and reunions for almost 50 years. She also loved the mountain solitude of the cabin where she could relax while reading her favorite book. She loved competition, and regularly challenged her grandchildren in games of pounce, scrabble and golf. She was an avid Bronco football fan and a longtime season ticketholder who never missed a BSU home game. Mrs. Bailey is survived by her sons Thomas Linville and his wife Jacque of Boise; Robert Linville and his wife Patty of Seward Alaska; Richard Linville and his wife Amy of Emmett; her daughter Rebecca Obletz and her husband Douglas of Portland, Oregon; her stepdaughter Martha Sorenson and her husband Christopher of Boise; and her brother Dick Vandenburg and his wife Jean of Boise. She is also survived by her large extended family with a current total of fifteen grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, three nieces and two nephews. Her family was always blessed by her love. We will miss her eternal optimism, faithfulness and determination. Her character set an example that has shaped all of our lives. Her blue eyes and enduring smile will live in our hearts forever. Memorials may be made to the First United Methodist Church (Cathedral of the Rockies) 717 N. 11th Street, Boise, Idaho 83702, or the Boise Family YMCA, 1050 West State Street, Boise, Idaho 83702.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I've had a lot to say this month, but I haven't had time.

We have been holding vigil at my grandmother's side. Hospice tells us that she should die anytime. It definitely has put a different perspective on Thanksgiving than I expected for this year.

I am learning much though, least of which is that flexibility is required always. You just never know what might happen. The more rigid you are in your expectations, the more disappointed it allows you to be if those things change.

I am hoping to get a Thanksgiving post in and will post pictures of our first Thanksgiving in our house!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beyond the beyond

I was reading my aunt's blog a few minutes ago, and someone wrote, "We are all taught that Life Isn't Fair, but this is beyond the beyond."

Do you know people who always seem to have drama and chaos in their lives? I've known those people, and I have been known to be skeptical of their stories. How can anyone possibly have THAT much stress and drama in their lives (that they weren't bringing on themselves)?

Well... I am THAT person.

In 2000, my uncle was diagnosed with a chronic illness. In 2001, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV Non-hodgkin's lymphoma and given a bad prognosis. He went into remission only to relapse six months later. He got better and then was sick again a few months after that. He moved to D.C. to live with me where he was in a clinical trial and has been in remission since 2004.

My sister had brainstem surgery in 2002. My step-dad had a herniated disk repaired. And then (after everyone was sick and tired of the hospital!) my appendix ruptured.

My grandfather was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and he died in 2004.

The next couple of years were fairly uneventful (if you consider graduating college, getting married and trying to have a baby uneventful!).

In 2007, my grandmother ate too much at Thanksgiving and had some GI issues that were life threatening. But, the fighter she is, she pulled through it.

In 2008, my house burned down. I got Bell's Palsy.

In the last few weeks, my aunt has had brain surgeries with H1N1 complications (following the first brain surgery in August), my uncle has had H1N1 with pneumonia complications, and my grandmother has had a stroke. All the while, I am dealing with my own chronic illness.

Life isn't fair. But this is beyond the beyond.

I was talking to my uncle this afternoon about my friends and family, who have been so giving through these difficult times. But, I told him, I worry. There is so much drama and stress, and I use up all of my energy just in dealing with my life that I don't have any to give back. I have very little energy right now as it is, and yet I've been spending 14 hour days at the hospital and making food for family members when I can't be. I want to give. It's in my nature to give. It makes me feel valued and a member of a community. It's not fair when the giving is one-sided though, and I really think that it is right now. I am hoping these dark clouds pass, that my emotional needs subside, and that I can one day give back to those who have given me so much.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas

I just got home from my grandmother's house. She went home from the hospital today, and there is still a long road ahead, but fortunately she will be able to be at home for the time being.

As I was driving home, I was listening to Deliliah, and I knew immediately that Christmas music was on. I don't know when they made the switch, but I was so so so excited. I have been so good about not listening to Christmas music yet, but honestly, I might start pulling stuff out after tonight. As I was listening to Christmas music, I was thinking about decorating our home, about the Christmas tree in front of the stairs, about the big balls we bought at Costco to hang outside, about Dan putting up the lights for the first time in our house. Granted, we DID celebrate last year in our home, but it was a bare floored, no cabinet, no carpet kind of house, and I didn't get to celebrate the entire month. As I was thinking about all of the joy this Christmas will bring, I started crying (which isn't the best thing when you are on the freeway while it's raining with your son in the backseat sleeping).

Obviously I love Christmas. And I am so excited to be able to decorate our house and celebrate, really celebrate here. This year, I'll be home for Christmas.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

New "normal"

My grandmother had a stroke on Wednesday. She is a fiercely independent woman. Strong is an understatement. She is competitive, even at 82. One of the first questions I asked the doctor was whether she could play Scrabble again, and his answer provoked a smile from my grandmother.

While we don't know yet how permanent the effects of the stroke will be, I am sure that life for her will now be measured in pre- and post-.

In so many of life's events, I see the trauma of the fire mirrored. It isn't the fire or the stroke or cancer or... It's the trauma. Life before. Life after. What WAS normal. What IS normal.

It's a reminder that we are constantly changing, life is always in flux. It is a reminder to be flexible, to stay on your toes, to adjust, to be WILLING to adjust.

As I watch my grandmother fight, I know this isn't how she would want to be. And I am reminded that in those days after the fire (in that YEAR after the fire), it wasn't where I wanted to be either. I wanted to will myself back to before just as I am sure she wants to will herself back as well.

I'm also reminded though that our choice isn't in the circumstances that befall us. Our choices are in the responses to those changes. Will we fight? Will we adjust? Will we accept our new normal? And in accepting that new normal, will we recognize the beauty, the opportunity, the peace that lies therein?

Monday, November 2, 2009


Peace isn't a permanent state. It exists in moments. Fleeting. Gone before we even knew it was there. Everyday we experience these moments of peace. The trick is to know when they're happening so we can embrace them, live in them.
- Grey's Anatomy, "Give Peace a Chance"

I have thought a lot about how to find peace over the last year, wanting it to be a state of being. I am sure for some Buddhist monks, peace is their normal state of being. But I am not a Buddhist monk nor am I able to maintain peace through chaos.

I am also not so naive as to believe that, at 27, I have "done my time," that this is my trauma and that I get a bye to live without chaos and sadness for the remainder of my life. Knowing what I know about unexpected moments of inexplicable grief, I believe though that I must be able to find peace, even in those moments. Peace IS fleeting. But so too is grief.

Where I found grief in sorting through the ashes of my belongings, so too did I find peace in the arms of strangers. I found laughter in the irony of that which was recognizable and tried to limit my tears for that which was not. I found peace in watching the nailing of boards, the piecing back together of my house, my life. Even if that peace was interrupted by the cries of a newborn child or the questions of another contractor, there was peace in *that* moment. There was peace the night that Dan and I sat in our house for the first time, furniture-less eating take-out because our home was not yet ours, but it was. There have been moments of peace in being able to write about our journey, peace in recognizing that it is a journey, one with no set endpoint. And there is peace dancing among the grief in the realization that on August 25, our lives changed forever and that we will never be able to go back to "before."

I find peace now, watching the leaves fall from trees I didn't have before, and with each fall of the leaf, the closing of one season and the welcoming of another. It is a new season for us too. Not one in which there is lack, but one in which there is peace. There always was peace. It was just recognizing it amidst the grief.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 1

I wish it was ok to start decorating for Christmas. I mean, I guess I can do whatever I want. I almost had Christmas in August so why not November. But I won't. Today I will pack up my pumpkin lights and my painted pumpkin with Boo googly eyes. I will put away my painted candy box. And I will wait.

I will look at the homemade wreath on my table (that needs a flameless candle!) and wish that there were more fall decorations. I will resist the temptation to put in a Christmas CD. I will wish away the snow (because it is fall, dangit!). And I will try my best to enjoy the remainder of fall, the transition to long-sleeve shirts and sweatshirts to boots.

I will because it will make the Christmas season that more magical. The wait will be worth it. But the day after Thanksgiving, there will be decorations, a tree. I have waited over a year to celebrate Christmas in my house with my son. A real celebration. But I can wait (I guess).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

From our garden to yours...

If you live in our neck of the woods, we'd love to see you and your little ones!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow, really?

It's October. It's not supposed to snow!

I'm just thankful that we're not building our house this year. We broke ground the middle of October, and I can't imagine our framers working in this weather.

I was hoping to get some good fall pictures with the leaves, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. How do fall pictures in the snow sound?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I can't believe it's almost Halloween. That means that Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and Christmas is shortly thereafter.

I had BIG plans for this year. I wanted to decorate the house and be festive. And I do have a few decorations up (I'm hoping to get some pictures). Someone gave us a fall basket last year, and it was the only real festive thing we had in our house. This year I made a wooden basket for chocolate, made a wreath for the door, and made a wreath centerpiece for the table (it needs a candle, but I am having a hard time bringing myself to buy one. I'm thinking maybe a flameless candle!). We have pumpkin lights and bought metal ghosts at Art in the Park. I have a sign that says "A witch lives here with her little monster" hanging up, and we bought a stuffed pumpkin that Kellen likes to lie his head in. (Ok, writing all of this makes me feel like we are really festive!) But we didn't go to the pumpkin patch, which has been our tradition since Dan and I started dating. We didn't carve pumpkins (though I'm *pretty* sure that we bought a carving kit - I can't remember if we carved pumpkins last year, though I know we made it to the pumpkin patch). Kellen has a costume, but he has yet to wear it, and I'm not sure he's even going to keep it on. The good news is that we have neighbors that we love who we can go trick or treating to. Last year was a bummer not to be able to go over to our neighbors' with Kellen dressed up as a monkey.

Hopefully I'll have pictures of him this weekend, but here is our little pumpkin last Halloween.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fire ladders

We have a two story house now. And fire safety is on my mind all the time, yet we still don't have a fire ladder.

We've talked about our plan if something happens before we get one, but I know it's not enough. We need a ladder. We need to practice.

I've been looking at them on Amazon, and so far, I think I like the built in ladder better. It is permanently mounted on the window so that if there ever were a fire, all a kid would need to do is throw it out. When our kids are older, a ladder under the bed might be a perfectly fine solution. But while they are young, I worry about them figuring out how to assemble, secure, and get out! The only downside is the cost. I think we might get two of the permanent mount ladders to put in the nursery and Kellen's eventual big boy room. Then we'll get one or two of the ladders that go in the closet or under your bed for Dan's office and the laundry room. Does four ladders seem excessive?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


It's ironic really, this settling.

Our house is finally starting to feel like a home. More and more days go by where I think of this house as our home more than the old one. We still don't have a lot of our "stuff," but little by little we are adding more new "stuff" to make this home ours. I have Halloween decorations up, some that I even made!! We celebrated Kellen's birthday here, a celebration memory in our house. I am starting to think about decorating Kellen's big boy room and about what the nursery will look like for the next kiddo (no, we are not having another baby right now!). It's starting to feel normal, settled even.

As we settle into this house and into our new routine, our house also settles. It makes noises, as though it's relaxing into an overstuffed Lazy Boy in anticipation of an afternoon of football. Unfortunately though, this settling, this relaxing, causes problems in the house. Our garage door gets stuck often. Doors don't close exactly like they are supposed to, hinges slightly off. Fortunately there are no cracks in the walls, though I know it can happen.

It's funny, settling. It allows you to relax but not to the point of complacency. I guess that's ok.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"You look familiar"

I don't go out a lot. It's not really like me, but with as overwhelming as this last year has been, I think I'm in self-preservation mode. And there's fear now, always fear, that if I will again come home to a neighborhood the way I did on August 25th.

But it's nice to be around other people. Really. Inevitably though, I will get at least one "You look familiar."

I volunteered at Moppet Togs today (the children's consignment sale), and I got this several times. It's an awkward position because I don't really want to be known as that woman who was pregnant when her house burned down in that bad fire, "you remember?" Sometimes I will say, "We've been in the news a lot this year," which of course doesn't really solve anything, just makes people more curious! Sometimes I just shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't know." If they ask for my name and put it together, that doesn't seem as difficult. I guess it's because I don't have to be the one to bring up the fire.

But something else sometimes happens, which I think is great. Sometimes the person is a blog reader, and that's just neat. I've met a few people who read my blog in interesting places, and I love that. I like knowing whose reading. I like to hear their stories. And it makes me feel connected beyond just being "that woman." I've been missing out on connectedness, and this blog is one way for me to reach beyond our year, our situation, and once again be connected.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tabby is missing

Our cat who survived the fire is missing.

I let her out Sunday night and had a bad feeling about it. Our neighbors saw her Monday morning, and that was the last time anyone saw her.

She's pretty resilient, but we don't know what to think since she's been gone almost a week.

Please keep our kitty in your thoughts. We miss her.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Kellen!!

Hard to believe it's been a year since you were born. We love you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


What do you do when you hear a fire alarm going off in your house? Do you walk around looking for the beeping alarm to change the battery? I know I used to. What's the point of a fire alarm if it doesn't alert us to fire but rather is alerting us to the battery charge? What is the point when we become so desensitized to the alarm that we don't first think, we should get the kids out of the house?

I worry about this. I worry because I've noticed a significant change in behavior since the fire. I don't immediately start walking around my house when I hear the alarm. No. The first thing I do is check for signs of a fire. Do I smell smoke? Is it hot? I walk outside. Honestly, the alarm can go off for a few minutes. I would rather it annoy the neighbors than be caught in a real fire thinking it was just a battery.

This brings me to another point about smoke alarms. You really need to test them once a month. They don't do you any good if they don't work. (And they really don't do you any good if you are annoyed by them and took them down.) Replace the batteries. Please.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


We currently need to replace TWO lightbulbs.

I know this doesn't seem like a lot, but it is. It means we have lived in this house long enough to need replacement lightbulbs. It means I've walked in the mud room enough times to have burned out the light.

It's a milestone, a small one, but a milestone. Lightbulbs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New house stuff

The idea of a new house sounds so nice. Everything is new, nothing is broken. Everything works. Well, let me tell you a story about new houses! That is so not true!! And I think it's time for us to actually get on the fixing of the stuff before warranties expire.

For example, our microwave is possessed. It is electronic and has a touch-screen and is nice. But it freaks out EVERYDAY. It can't figure out what time it is and flashes from the front screen to the clock and back and forth and back and forth, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP.... BEEEEEEP. This is why our microwave is unplugged.

We also have an issue with one of our outlets where if you plug in anything with a motor (like a vacuum or a drill) the fire alarm goes off. I don't know what it is with us and fire alarms, but it's bizarre. Why can't the lights dim or something instead of throwing me into an all-alert panic?

And our master bedroom is on some kind of special new breaker that is super fire protective, which is great, except it breaks ALL the time.

Our laundry room door won't stay open. I don't know how to fix that.

I know these are all minor in the grand scheme of things, but they are just little annoyances that I just wish we weren't having to deal with. I'd take the cracking tile, the lack of weather-stripping under the door, and the non-fire door in the garage. I would.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How did I get so much stuff?


Where did this stuff come from?

And why can I still not find things I actually need? Like tape? Or a hammer? I do have a can opener though! That I do have!

I might have empty bookcases, but I still feel like I have crap everywhere. I think I can thank Kellen for that. I don't actually think it's that we have that much "stuff" as much as it is that the stuff we have gets spread out a lot. Maybe the stuff that we have is stuff we actually use and need (like clothes and dishes and scrapbooking paper!). Whatever it is, it is all over my floors!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Contents List... AGAIN

I am dreading the contents list. Dreading.

But I know we need to do it. An actual list, of the actual contents of this house, rather than a list created from memory, with who knows how much of our stuff excluded. We have receipts. We've been really good about that. And we have a cool receipt scanner from Costco. But we need to do more than that to make sure we are fully insured in this house.

And since we are doing it, I am inviting you to join me this fall. Go through your house. Take pictures of each room, each drawer, each closet, the garage, the attic (trust me on the garage and attic- you won't remember what's in a place you don't see everyday). Upload those photos to a site like Shutterfly, take them to your parent's, put them in a safety deposit box, hope you'll never need them. And then go through, room by room creating a list of what you own, how much you paid for it. Do it little by little if you have to. A room a week, a month even. And then look at your insurance and see if the amount you are covered for in contents is more or less than what your total is. If you ever need to use that policy, you will hope that it is more. I also highly recommend replacement coverage to ensure that the actual cost of the item is covered. You should see the price lists that insurance companies use to determine the costs of goods. You want $20 for that lamp? GOOD LUCK! Here's a nickel.

If you are a RENTER, look at that content list and decide whether you can afford to replace all of those items out of pocket. If not, please (PLEASE) consider renter's insurance.

I would love to know how this goes for you. Like I said, I am dreading this. It was at this time last year, we were starting our list from the old house, and it was no fun. Fifty pages in Excel. Fortunately I have a lot more records now. But it doesn't seem any less daunting. Just a little less emotional.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


First, I promise I will get photos up. We have been having weird technology voodoo around here, and computers are down, and I am reluctant to delete any photos off my memory card for fear that we will lose the photos if the computers crash again.

The first surprise of the week has to do with cameras. Last night, Tabby (the miracle cat) was sleeping in my flower pot, and I really wanted to get a picture. I grabbed the first memory card I could find, and turned the camera on. The card was full, so I looked through the photos to see what I could delete. On the card were pictures from the day after the fire. We had gone to Best Buy to get a camera because we needed documentation of the house for insurance. We also wanted to get photos of those first minutes. I was torn about keeping them. They weren't high quality images, and I have much better pictures. But there is something raw about them that captures the emotion of those first few hours. Dark, black, bleak. I decided to erase a couple and was able to get Tabby in the flower pot. (I will upload as soon as my laptop is fixed because the card reader on my desktop doesn't work- and yes, we have a lot of computers.)

The second surprise came this morning. We have been trying to organize the house, really get things into places that are functional as well as decorative. (I will post later about how hard it is to "decorate" without kitschy things.) I was putting some of my "old" things into a box. I love having newspapers from high school that I edited and wrote for. I love my grade school pictures and report cards. But I also don't need them on the floor, so they are in the garage. I found a book my mom had sent. It wasn't a book I really had much of an attachment to, and I've laughed often at how the things that I didn't really want (and therefore left at my mom's house) have become the things that I now cherish from my past. This book probably would have been in a giveaway pile a mere eighteen months ago. But Kellen was playing with it this morning (he likes to "read" to himself), and inside the front cover was a note from my grandfather. If you remember this post, when we were going through the remnants of the house, we found a torn letter from him. He died a few years ago, and I miss him. A love of books was something we shared, and his handwriting is beautiful.

The note reads:
"Dear Brooke,
I'm very proud of you for being an avid reader! Yes, reading provides food and pleasure for the mind - Don't ever let your brain starve!
Christmas '96"

Speaking of books, I just started the book, Life is a Verb. The premise is that the author's stepfather was given a cancer diagnosis and died 37 days later. What if you had 37 days to live? I know it is kind of morbid, but really, the one thing the fire has left me with is the fragility of life. How would you live your last 37 days? And since none of us can know when the end is, why not start living your life like that now? I'm hoping to share with you more of this book as I go along.

And to end on a really good note, I have started scrapbooking again. It's been a challenge because I was devastated to lose Kellen's baby book I started. I have gotten several pages into his book, and more photos should be here today. I am also starting my house scrapbook. And hopefully I will start my fire shadow box that is going to go in the living room soon. I can't wait to share that project.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Art in the Park

I have been waiting a WHOLE YEAR for Art in the Park. Last year we picked up some pieces, mostly replacements of stuff we had before, but it was hard to buy for a house we didn't have.

So much of the "stuff" I had in my house had a story. I could look at the table and tell you that I got it as a floor sample from Pottery Barn or look at the typewriter that I loved and tell you that I bought it at an antique store and about how every kid that walked through our doors played with it. I could tell you about the old photography equipment and how it was found by rummaging through my great-grandparents' stuff and by helping my dad move out of our family house the week of my wedding. I could tell you about the collage picture on our wall that a friend of mine from high school made as a wedding gift.

But most of the stuff in our house now doesn't have much of a story... and we were given so much so quickly and bought so much right after moving that the stories kind of merge together. Granted there are things that have stories I can tell you, like the piggy bank baby bottle or "Douglas" the big stuffed bear. But I miss having my own stories associated with objects in and around my house.

Which is why I've been waiting a year for Art in the Park. We bought a flower made out of recycled goods (picture tomorrow), a guitar playing skeleton for Halloween (I can't wait to show you pictures of our house decorated for Halloween!), and Christmas ornaments. We are also considering a glass piece for the wall in our bedroom. It's my hope that someday (SOON) I will be able to look around my house and tell you a story without having to refer to the fire every third word.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jarring dreams

I don't have fire dreams all the time anymore, which is why when I do have them, I wake up completely off, starting the day 100 yards behind where I expected to.

Dreams are a defining characteristic of PTSD as I've written before and have been the most difficult after-fire experience because I have no control over them and am really shaken when they happen.

In this morning's dream, we had been at an event to come home to our neighborhood gone. The strange thing about dreams is that sometimes the scenery is different (I don't always dream that the house that burns down is our old house. We often live in a different neighborhood or city in my dreams. But the outcome is always the same.) I was sitting in a pile of smoldering ash looking through my decimated home, when the fireman brought me the remnants of a hospital ID tag from my birth. I was crying. And crying.

And then I woke up for the day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kids and fire

I was watching the Today show this morning (do you see a theme?). They showed a segment (below) about kids and lighters and matches and how even with a talk about how dangerous they were, that kids still play with them. I am asking you, blog reader, to have a conversation about fire with your children. Discuss the dangers. And put your lighters/matches in a safe place that isn't reachable by your children.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I love fall

I love Fall. I love that night comes sooner and morning comes just a little later. I love the thought of pumpkin carving (after a visit to the pumpkin patch). I love seeing kids on their way to school and off to sports practices. I love tailgating and Football season (and love that I have a team to root for). I love long sleeved shirts. I love fall because it is comfortable, and if you've been to my house or know me, that's my life. Comfortable.

I was robbed of fall last year. Fall was sadness, stress, overwhelming. Not comfort.

There was little to decorate or decorate with. We went to the pumpkin patch, but we forgot to carve the pumpkins. It was just one more to-do on a list that was already pages too long.

I might go a little overboard this year, but that's ok. I have already starting making my October crafts. And I've been looking around for even more decorations. (I need to figure out how to light the pumpkins without candles.) We have thrown ourselves into Football season. I am embracing Pumpkin Spice lattes. I am so excited that it's fall. And I'm glad for the new year feeling that has continued to settle into my heart.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Have or had?

I know I've mentioned this before, but the question of "Do I have that?" or "Did I have that?" has been surfacing a lot lately. As time goes by, it becomes harder to remember what was and what is. For example, Kellen's practice cake had come out of the oven, and I was trying to ice it and lay the fondant. I knew I had a cake decorator plate that spun, but I couldn't find it. So Dan and I had to sit and think whether it was something that I HAD or HAVE. I was sure that it was something I had bought A.F. (after fire) because I hadn't been decorating cakes beforehand. After much searching, we found it misplaced in a cabinet. (That's the other problem we are having- where should stuff go?!)

I know this HAD/HAVE thing happens with people when they donate or sell something, so I'm not alone, but this happens to us with a little more frequency than before. I'm also never sure quite how hard I should look for something because it might be a very futile search. Usually it entails more of a searching through my memories to determine when I think I would have used it.

I also find myself asking whether I claimed something on insurance. Someone will mention an item in passing, and I will think, "Was that on our list?" Since our list was 50 pages long in Excel, I'm not really inclined to go look it up. I know there are things that weren't claimed, but at this point it's moot (or a "moo point" if you are a Friends fan).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

California Wildfires

I like watching the Today show. When I went on my news strike, I missed watching my morning "news."

I had to turn it off this morning as they had footage of families looking through their homes, which looked a lot like the remnants of our home. I also felt like I was invading their privacy. Those first moments are so raw and jarring, and I don't know how I feel about TV cameras being there.

I feel for those families, and it makes me even more certain that there needs to be an organization that is dedicated to helping them navigate the first days, weeks, months after the fire. I try to find information about how to help, and there is little. If there were an organization that oversaw donations and such, it would be so much easier to get the families what they need.

I really would like to help the families, both in the southern CA and Auburn fires. I know the Red Cross is accepting donations, but I refuse to donate to them after last year. I am still uncertain as to how much of those donations actually go to helping the families in need.

Please keep all the families who lost their homes in your thoughts. They are at the beginning of their journey, and they have a tough year ahead of them.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Redecorating and house projects

How can I possibly be talking about house projects when I live in a brand new house?!

That's the thing about homes though. It takes a while to break them in. In the old house, we spent the two and half years we lived there painting, building, fixing. The house was almost just the way we wanted it.

When you are building a house, there are just so many things you don't think of. I got so mad at Dan when the electrician was here because they wanted to know where to put the outlets and the light switches. I had no answers for them. But I can tell them now! I want a light switch on the right hand side immediately when I walk into the master bathroom. I want an outlet right outside my master bedroom so I can plug in the vacuum because as it is now it breaks the circuit in our bedroom. I want a microwave that doesn't fritz out ALL THE TIME! We are tired of fixing it, so we let it be different times in the kitchen.

We had the back wall of our bedroom painted red in the old house, and we asked to do the same in this one. I am learning though that just because that's the way it WAS doesn't mean it's the way it has to BE. The red we chose doesn't match the furniture or the bathroom granite or tilework. I also think it's making the ceiling appear lower than it is. We are hoping to paint it beige in the next week or so. I'm also not happy with the armoire we chose, so I am on a hunt to find something that fits the space better. That's just how it is when you are getting used to the space though. You think something will work and the more you sit with it, the more you realize it just doesn't work. (And if anyone wants a nice armoire for a good price let me know!) I love the feel of our guest bedroom, and I want to have that same serene feeling in our bedroom. I found drapes that I love and match nicely and think I might have found some bedding (after months and months of searching).

Kellen's big boy room isn't finished. Well, it's not actually even started. I want to paint monkeys on the wall, so I am on a quest to find a good image to paint with a vine that goes around the room. We're hoping to put bunk beds in there. And my step-dad is building us a bookcase.

We also need to expand our garden (and add some decent soil!). We are planning to move the fence back when the weather gets a little cooler. I also commented before the fire how hot it would be if we lost our neighbors' trees. Funny how comments like that stick in your head. It is H-O-T in our backyard, and the sun is actually scorching all of our "full-sun" flowers. We are hoping to build a pergula and grow vines for shade.

I also have other projects, but I am trying to remind myself they don't have to all get done right now. I am ready to be done with them for a while, but houses are never "done" I guess. And I know that by doing the projects it will make us feel even more like this is our home.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Good Day

I didn't realize how much the first year anniversary was weighing on me. I knew it was going to be tough, but I was having a hard time differentiating that crappy feeling with the one that has settled into my body, an unwelcome visitor that has stayed a few months too long. My new normal was a day in which I got out of bed for a few hours, maybe pulled a few weeds and emptied the long forgotten dishwasher while laundry piled up in my bedroom. What good is an eighteen foot closet when all your clothes are surrounding your bed? That new normal was becoming uncomfortably familiar, replacing the woman who had worked two or three jobs, who always pushed others because she believed that you weren't good enough yet and a little more effort would bring you to your best. I didn't recognize the old me anymore. While I didn't have post-partum depression, I empathize with those women in a way I never thought I could or would need to. Depression is depression in whatever form it gets to you. And I can only describe it as heartbreaking when I look back on how difficult it was to care for my son while struggling to get out of bed, move, do.

But yesterday was a good day. I can't tell you what exactly about it was better, but looking back I can see myself preparing for a good day. I cleaned my bedroom, put away the laundry, made a LIST (oh how I used to love lists). And yesterday I got up, still a little heavy in my heart and a little light on motivation, but I got up. I left EARLY for a grand opening of sorts with my Stroller Strides moms in Meridian. I returned something to Pottery Barn (because I have a GOAL of getting my office organized this week). And I came home to bake. Kellen's birthday is in less than a month (can you believe it?!), and I wanted to practice making his cake. I always know I'm having a good day when I can get myself to bake. I love it, but I have to be in a place where I can make a mess and be ok with it rather than adding to the overwhelming feeling. Dan wanted Chocolate, and I can't eat chocolate, so I made a side of chocolate cupcakes with homemade chocolate icing from my new baking book (I'm starting to have a cookbook collection again too!). I messed up a few times, so we were back and forth to the store, but even that didn't throw me off. And as I stood in the kitchen, adding egg yolks to the batter, I thought about Thanksgiving, and I was EXCITED.

You see, the anniversary has been this date, looming in front of me, and nothing else could happen because that date was there, a detour or road block. It felt like I was being handed a "Go directly to jail. Do not pass go." card. This past year I could look back on the previous year and think about how much I had lost. Every date was another date that was, in essence, crappier than the year before it. Every day I can look back at my naivety and wish that I could warn my previous self of what was to come, to prepare myself then for the storm. But now that I've past the anniversary, every day I look back on I think, look how far I've come. I can look forward to my life again. I imagine Halloween and how our house (THIS house) will look decorated. I think about Thanksgiving and can once again imagine cooking Thanksgiving dinner with the Macy's day parade on. I can picture my house, lit up in Christmas lights, a tree, and peace.

For the first time in a year I finally feel like I am home.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Anniversary Celebration

Kellen and Shade celebrated how far we've come in style:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Random Thoughts.. and requests

Just the other day I got an email from a reader of the blog who sent me a list of some of the things she and her family are doing different to be prepared in the event of a fire. I am so glad that our story is helping make others more aware of their fire risk and take action NOW in the event their home was the victim of a fire. While it is unlikely, fires do happen, and I think anything you can do as prevention or planning is great. My first request is to know what you and your family are doing differently (leave it as a comment or send me an email!). And if you haven't done anything, that's fine too, although I hope that throughout this next year, we can have a virtual conversation about small things you can do that can make a big difference.

One thing I am working on this year is fire education. I am hoping to partner with the fire department so that we can share our story and lessons learned. I know people are tired of hearing us talk on the news, but we hope that maybe it will reinforce the idea that this isn't a small trauma or event and that you need to take measures now to safeguard your family, especially if you live in areas that border high-fire-danger zones. I think it's great that we have fire safety programs in the schools, but I would love to see more programs that target parents. I am hoping to speak to a few PTAs this year, encouraging parents to create a family plan and to PRACTICE (that fire ladder does you and your family little good if no one knows how to use is or even knows if it fits on the window). I remember being told all of that information as a child and taking it home to my parents, but we never practiced or even talked about what to do much longer than the day after the school presentation. I think it would be much more effective to talk to parents. If your school is interested in having a presentation done, please let me know.

As a part of fire education, I am going to start working on turning this into a book. I'm hopeful that over the next several months I am able to get the energy to work on it. I've started a couple versions, but I haven't really honed in on the story I want to tell. Hopefully that will come soon!

I am also still working on trying to set up the Life After the Fire nonprofit. I am hoping to have a launch fundraiser next year on August 25th. I would love to have a few people help come up with ideas and get us off the ground. If you are interested, please let me know. I am hoping that the organization is able to create boxes that are distributed to fire departments locally (and eventually nationwide) items that a family might need in the hours immediately after the fire, complete with a booklet on who you need to call (insurance, utilities), insurance tips and hotlines, and how to deal with the shock of your life being turned on its head.

And finally, I would just love if you said "Hi." I have loved getting emails from people across the country (and world!!) who have found my blog in one way or another. I love hearing your stories. I think that we have all experienced loss in one way or another, and we can always find common ground there. If you are comfortable sharing your stories with me, I would love to establish a dialog. You can email me by clicking the "Contact me" button or the address is listed to the right.

Most of all, thanks for reading, for sharing, and for lifting us up as we continue on this journey.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More thoughts on yesterday's fire

Yesterday's fire was unfortunate, and ultimately the neighborhood was very lucky. One of the ways it was most unfortunate though, was that it drew additional attention to our neighborhood. We expected the media yesterday. The story dominated news coverage for weeks last year, so I assumed they would be here. But what we expected was the 5 minute clip about how we've all rebuilt, look at how much stronger we are, blah, blah, blah feel good story. And that's how the coverage started... until the other fire broke out and they cut from our story to theirs. Throughout the hour, the news watched that fire and recapped ours over and over.

As I talked to the media, I could tell they wanted to emphasize the "victim" parts of our story. If you saw my interview, the part they pulled out was how difficult it still is- how the smoke and fire engines still cause me stress - how it's not just stuff, it's safety and memories. My Facebook status was "Taking bets as to whether they'll emphasize the victim mentality or fire prevention." Sadly it was the former. What you didn't see was my talking about how much we still need to do, how yesterday's fire is a reminder that we live in a desert area that interfaces with neighborhoods, that fires can happen... and DO. The news talked to the fire chief about whether lessons from our fire helped them fight that one. And he said the fires were totally different (and they were). But we can all take steps to prevent fires (or to minimize them). Some dumba$$ in the statesman was complaining about the government grant that community got to maintain fire buffers. He was mad because they chose to live there. Sadly though, it isn't just wildfires that burn homes down, and any measures we can take to make our homes and our lives a little safer from fire danger is worth it. I'm sad that the part of my interview Channel 7 chose to air wasn't about prevention. (But good thing I have this blog so I have my own pulpit!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25- a year later

I had a lot to write about today. As I was sitting down to write the post, however, I watched on the news as a brush fire started across the river from us. The news crews had been up in our neighborhood to cover the anniversary of the fire. As soon as the coverage was over, the news broke the story that another fire had started. I went outside and watched as the hillside, a hundred yards from a large neighborhood, on fire. For 15 minutes or more, we could see smoke, no flames, and the wind was headed up the mountain away from the homes. With wind though, you never know when it will change directions, and my heart started to sink as it turned back toward the subdivision. When I saw flames, I started to cry. Thankfully, the fire was extinguished before any homes were at risk, but it was a reminder of our vulnerability living in a high fire danger area. While my reasons for rebuilding here seemed so smart a year ago, there are now times that I question that decision.

And now for what I was going to write:

When I woke up on August 25, 2008, I didn't know that my life was about to change. And every moment leading up to 6:30 doesn't matter now because it was a part of my life that has changed beyond recognition. On August 25, 2008, I was naive. I believed that if my life was going to change I was have some prophetic moment where I would put a few things in my car just because. Instead I took things out, wanting my car to be clean.

When we came home that night and saw the fire, my heart sank. It was that moment that felt prophetic, and all too late. Fortunately our home wasn't on fire when we got to our neighborhood, and Dan was able to get the dog out. I remember driving around behind our house in panic trying to figure out exactly how I could get into our house to get our cat, who, at that point, would only come to me. I drove down Immigrant Pass, with the evacuation order following me, so I turned around. I drove a few streets away trying to figure out where to park so that I could find Dan because his cell phone had died. I remember stopping the car, getting out and pacing, dry heaving, getting back in the car, driving a couple of feet, getting back out, pacing, and dry heaving. I did this all the way down the street for at least five minutes... it felt a lot longer though. When the evacuation order got to me there, I remember calling Dan, screaming "GET OUT" even though I knew he wouldn't get the message until he was with me and safely out of danger. But in those moments I questioned his judgment and wondered why it was taking so long. All I had asked for were some photos and the animals. It shouldn't be taking this long. I have had time to reflect in the months since about what could have happened, and I think if I had allowed my mind to go there in those moments by the side of the road, I would have been doing more than dry heaving.

When Dan pulled up, I looked into the car and was amused that Bill Clinton's audiobook My Life had been saved. I was glad he had grabbed the computer and my wedding ring, both on his own accord. I remember driving to our friend's house, seeing the litany of fire engines headed toward the fire and feeling reassured. Surely if all of those engines were on the scene, our home would be spared. It couldn't happen to us.

When we got to my friend's house, I got out of my car and proceeded to throw up and urinate at the same time. The joys of pregnancy and stress. It is a very humbling moment to realize that the only clothes you own, you've now peed on. Thankfully my friend let me take a shower and threw my clothes in the washing machine for me and knocked on doors to find some clothes that I could wear, being eight months pregnant.

I remember getting online to talk to my online message board friends, hoping that their good thoughts could will the fire away from our home. I remember the phone call to my mom in Sweden, she thinking that I was her hotel wake-up call to leave for the airport. My call woke them up for sure. I remember sitting in my friend's living room watching the DNC because I couldn't bear to turn to the network news (watching is a loose term). Dan and our friends were walking in and out of their spare bedroom to watch the coverage, not sure if our house was still standing. I remember Dan deciding to go back up to our neighborhood to see if he could get some more information, and me feeling so vulnerable and alone even though I was sitting there with my friend. I remember (and will always remember) the call I received when he said, "It's gone."

Once we knew our house was a loss, we went to Fred Meyer to get some essentials. I needed a pair of pants that fit (btw, I really love my sweatpants!). I remember buying the clothes and heading straight to the Fred Meyer bathroom to change - because really where else was I going to change. I was homeless. I remember standing in the electronics section looking for a car charger for our phones, which were ringing non-stop, and being surrounded by the news coverage. I didn't want to watch my home burn down on my friends 27 inch television. I certainly didn't want to watch it on 60 52" flat screens. I couldn't escape my reality.

I remember meeting other families at Trail Wind. I remember seeing Pete Ryder, whose wife was missing. I remember believing in the depths of my soul that they had just gotten separated, that no one had been hurt in the fire. I remember sitting at a cafeteria table talking to the reporter knowing that we needed help but feeling ashamed to ask for it. We are so grateful to Katy for being such a kind reporter and for reaching out to us personally, not just because it helped her professionally.

And I remember sneaking through the neighborhoods, past police barricades, so that we could get back and see the damage. Maybe it wasn't REALLY gone. But it was. I had such hope when I saw some of the brick in front of the house thinking that half a wall still standing somehow indicated that our home hadn't just burned down.

Today I feel as though we are reliving the fire, those moments are being burned (pardon the pun) into our memories. It has forever changed the course and direction of my life. And we appreciate all of your support as we have navigated through it, as we find what normal means again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Counting down

It is so surreal. There are moments when I can't believe it's been a year. But mostly, I feel like the fire was lifetimes ago. Even though it's the 24th, today still seems like an anniversary. The fire happened on this Monday a year ago. At this time a year ago, I had no idea that my life was about to change dramatically (other than having a baby, which I knew would change my life).

We just finished an interview to be a part of a promotional DVD for a product that would help in wildfires. I don't know that it would have saved our house, but it's something. They asked what advice I would give to other people, and my biggest advice is to "HAVE A PLAN." I'm going to be talking a lot about planning for fire safety in the next couple of months. I think I have a unique ability to have a voice and make a difference in this area, and I want to be sure that I make that difference. If it helps one or two families, that will be enough... although I hope that it helps more people!

Another thing they mentioned is that people believe that this can't happen to them. I'm here to tell you that it can. I am a real person who lost everything (EVERYTHING) in a fire. And believe it or not, I would trade my beautiful new house for my old one.

Tomorrow- a look back on August 25th, a year later.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2 days

Today is a hard day.

I vividly remember the Sunday before the fire. It embodies everything that was normal before the fire. Dan and I were in my classroom, he studying up on the Substitution Method to take his test Tuesday, me finishing up decorating and planning. Because I was a special education teacher, I wouldn't have students in my class that first week as we needed to get some baseline testing. We were excited for his cousin's arrival. We would be meeting them downtown for dinner and then heading to Lewis Black. It was normal, lighthearted, exciting. I felt like everything was coming together (teaching, baby, life).

The next morning I would wake up and be excited to be at school. I can remember walking down the hallways talking to the other staff members, anxious to share my knowledge, my enthusiasm for kids. It had been a long couple of weeks, though, and I needed a massage. I called the place in Bown Crossing and scheduled for that afternoon. It was the most relaxed I had felt in months.

I remember nearly every detail of those last 48 hours. That was before.

Instead of coming together, though, everything disintegrated. Teaching is now a distant memory. Our home is fading further and further into the recesses of my mind. Normal is now fatigue and dizziness, empty walls and bare cupboards. Normal is hoping I can get out of bed in the morning and that I won't need a nap. Normal is walking into my house and thinking "What the F-" (excuse my language). "How did we get here?"

I am anxious for this year to be over. I am ready for August 26th. A year ago will no longer distinguish the old normal from the new one. It will just be a part of our lives now. It's the end of the inferno and the beginning of the ascension.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A year ago

We are in countdown mode. One week until the year anniversary of the fire. One week.

This week has been hard, probably the hardest for me yet. When I think back about the Halloween or Thanksgiving before the fire, it just seemed so distant to the actual event. Yes the two years varied in extremes, but their disconnect made it easier in a way. I wasn't even pregnant.

But this week leading up to the fire, I can remember that. It will forever be cemented in my head because it was the stark contrast of one week to the next.

A year ago I was setting up my classroom, exploring the teacher store, laminating and cutting out rules, and pizza fractions.

A year ago I was sitting in my living room (facing the road) watching the Olympics and finishing the crazy quilt stocking that I was making Dan (and that I finished the night before the fire!). I was organizing photos from Kellen's baby shower and had uploaded his nursery pictures to How sad I was to get negative comments, though I understood that the pictures didn't pick up the blue walls. I was arguing with the muralist about the guitar mural she had painted (and I had paid for) but she hadn't finished. I was washing and folding baby clothes, knowing that I would be limited in time between the start of school and Kellen's birth. I had started his baby book, arranging ultrasound pictures, and finishing cutting out the letters for his name. We hadn't shared the baby name, but seeing it on paper made him seem so much more real (apparently being kicked in the bladder doesn't have this same effect). The night before the fire, Dan's cousin was in town, and we had all gone to see Lewis Black. He signed my Red, White, and Screwed DVD, which was my favorite. I had taken the DVD and the book out of the car that night, which was uncharacteristic of me. I would do several things in that last 24 hours that weren't typical and that I would later come to regret. That was the before.

Everything was different on August 26th. And I am counting down to August 26, 2009, complete with a ball drop and everything. It is my new year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Month of fun

Dan and I have had an interesting month. We had plans to go to a comedy club, Roaring Springs, Jackpot, celebrate numerous holidays, etc. We just wanted to make new memories that weren't tied to the fire. And we have, though I wasn't expecting the stomach bug to keep reappearing at our house!

The day we were supposed to go to Roaring Springs that huge thunder and hail storm hit. So we went to Jackpot (and nearly got eaten by a forming tornado). I won $80 at the penny slots. We went to Roaring Springs the next week and played a couple of rounds of laser tag among other things.

We didn't get a chance to celebrate our Halloween in August, but I did start making some decorations that should be ready come October. It's going to be so nice to have some homemade things. My mom was a home ec major, and we always had handmade holiday stuff (and I lost a lot of it).

And we are planning for the one year anniversary. I am hoping to have a New Years party on the 25th with a countdown and mock ball drop. For me, August 25th will always mark a new year, an anniversary. And counting down to year 2 A.F. will be a great thing for us. While I still have a hard time finding motivation (if I pull a few weeds and unload the dishwasher, it's a productive day), I truly am looking forward to this next year. It feels like I'm getting my life back, I'm coming out of limbo. And this month has been a good way to start that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Wedding Dress

I posted a little about my wedding dress in the month after the fire. Today I took a survey about my wedding dress, and I got some follow-up questions. I thought I would share the story with you as well.


I saw my wedding dress in a magazine six months before I officially got engaged. I say officially because Dan and I talked about getting married almost immediately after meeting. Something felt right, and in an effort to get out of my head and lead with my heart, I opened up to that possibility. As soon as I saw the dress I knew it would be the dress I wore the day I got married, what I imagined to be the most important day in my life up until then.

After we were officially engaged, I started the official dress search. My mom had asked that I try on a few dresses. Most brides I know find their dress by trying on dress after dress. I didn't need to. I ordered and paid for the dress without ever having tried it on or seeing it in person.

The women at the bridal store were excited about the dress as well. They had seen it in the catalogs, but no one had ordered it from them before. That was part of the reason I loved this dress so much. It was unique. I would be remembered as a bride not because of the actual wedding (who remembers those?!) nor because of the fun reception. I would be remembered because my dress was different.

I tried it on for the first time a month or so before the wedding. The fitted bodice had intricate beading interwoven into the black swirl that stood out against the traditional white satin. The train extended well past my feet, making me feel like a porcelain doll perched atop a circular base. Because of the beading I could not hem the length. I would have to find shoes to make me slightly taller. The lace up in the back enhanced the detail of the dress, and only once during the actual wedding did I decide that I probably needed to breathe and yet still longed for days centuries before my wedding date where elegant dresses were often worn cinched this tightly and women always looked this regal.

I didn't let my husband see the dress or know any of the details. This dress was my surprise, and nearly every detail of the wedding was designed around this one item. The wedding cake was designed to match the dress, and therefore, Dan was relieved of his cake duties as soon as we had decided on a white cake with raspberry filling. We had black and white chair covers, white flowers with black pins, black and white bridesmaid dresses (which I am happy to say have knowingly been worn again!). Had this not been Idaho, I would have had a black tie wedding (but it was hard enough to get everyone to show up without wearing jeans!).

And the wedding was everything that dress embodied. It was elegant. I felt beautiful. And it was unique.

I had other items from the wedding: toasting flutes, pictures, programs, our CD favor. But none of them could capture our wedding in one symbol the way that my dress did. I wanted to show people our pictures just to show them my dress. I would pull my dress out, even, to show people because I loved it so much. I may have even worn it around the house a time or two. My wedding was that dress.

About six months before the fire I started thinking I needed to give the dress away. It was a hard decision. I'm attached to the birthday card I got when I turned eight that says nothing more than "Hey, you're 8." If I couldn't get rid of that, how could I ever get rid of the dress? But I rationalized that I would never wear it again, and it could be donated to the breast cancer organization in Oregon that sells wedding gowns at least once a year. Someone else's dream wedding could happen in that dress. It would live on. The beauty of marriage would live on in that dress.

But I didn't donate it. I hadn't gotten around to it because I was still working on detaching myself and my wedding from the actual dress itself. Isn't life funny?!

Dan got my professional wedding album out of the house before the fire, along with more photos, my wedding ring (which didn't fit my eight month pregnant bloated hands), my laptop, and the dog. Had I been there, I would have grabbed my dress. I have thought a lot about this over the last year (YEAR?!), and I know unequivocally that I would have grabbed my dress. It was the symbol of my marriage, and even though I had thought of giving it away, I'm not sure I ever would have. Maybe I felt like I needed the dress as a reminder of my wedding and the vows that we made that day.

I challenge you to think about the symbols in your life. What are the tangible representations of the things that matter to you? Is your marriage all in your head (and heart) and memories, or do you have items that remind you of the commitments you made? What would there be if those things were gone?

Speaking of which, I am working on a post about our month of memories.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I've had a major breakthrough in figuring out why I have had such a difficult time with the fire and this year. If you read my post on Frame of Reference, it has much to do with that. After that concert I realized how tied to the fire all my past memories are, and in the last few days that's all I could think about.

ALL of my pre-fire memories are now linked to the fire. When I think about my wedding, it's not the flowers or the people or the cake or the honeymoon I think about. It's the fact that I loved my dress and had it hanging in the hall closet. It's the thought that if we had only had a few more minutes, it would have been the next thing I grabbed.

When I think about college, I think about the newspapers that I spent all-nighters working on and that I have none of them left. I think about the Chuck Palahniuk book that an editor plagarized from and how someone had loaned me that book as proof and yet I hadn't been able to get it back to her, and now I can't. I think about the diamond boards that we made in our sorority and how that burned up and even though it was in a box that I only occassionally looked through, it was still important to me.

When I think about Christmas, I get lost in the thought that Dan could have grabbed the stocking I had JUST finished making for him the weekend before the fire. It was sitting in the living room, and I was just beginning Kellen's. I can't even think of owning a sewing machine again because it makes me sad to think about all of the projects I had worked hours upon hours on and their eventual charred remains.

When I think about jewelry, I think about the pearls my dad gave me after I spent the summer after my freshman year caring for him when he was sick. Those pearls meant so much to me, and any time I wore them I was reminded of silly memories that summer (like dyeing his hair hot pink and neon green). All I have now are a few charred white balls.

Imagine every memory of your life being summed up in one moment. All the happy memories, all the sad memories are now just a reminder of trauma. I can't look back to make myself laugh really because everything takes me back to that moment.

If you think it's funny or weird that we are celebrating Halloween in August (more on that tomorrow), it's because I have few memories that make me laugh. I have few memories left that don't make me sad. And I want those memories. I want to laugh. That's my thing. I laugh. And August is our month to start doing that again. Our month of memories.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My projects

The comment that I deleted made a reference to my being "out of work." I haven't posted much about my job situation here, but given the comment, it's a good time to post about it.

Because of my medical situation this year, I was able to take a leave of absence from teaching while also guaranteeing my job for this next school year. As the year was coming to an end, I needed to make a decision, which was really tough on me. I love working with kids, and I love the environment at Riverside. However, since I have continued to have health problems (with no real answers as to what is going on) I had to formally resign my position. Working in special education, it is important to me and the students to ensure consistency. I didn't want to be in and out this next year in the same way I was this past year because I don't think that is fair to the students (or staff). Whether life will bring me back to teaching, I am not yet sure.

In the meantime, I have been putting together some projects that I hope will work out. I have been building a portfolio for blog designs (at I have really come to enjoy graphic design, and I like working on blogs because they are quick! I also have a much larger web project that I am working on. We are hoping to launch this fall, and I am anxious to share it with you all because I am excited!

I am also working on setting up a Life After the Fire nonprofit. The one thing I have learned through all of this is that there is little out in internet land that provides support for people who lose their homes in a fire. This really surprised me, and it's something I hope to remedy. I would also like to work toward promoting disaster readiness for others and ensuring that if a tragedy does happen that resources are being appropriately managed. There are things that would have been INCREDIBLY helpful to have had the night of the fire, and I hope that we can work toward ensuring that all people in our situation have those things (rather than someone asking them what they need when they are in a state of complete and total shock). If you are interested in helping out with this project, I would love to hear from you (see the Contact me link). I have a basic understanding of how to form the nonprofit, but it's an area in which I am, by no means, an expert (or even close), so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Besides that, I try to keep our house in some kind of order. And I'm raising a very very curious child (who still isn't "walking"- his record is 10 steps in a row). I am also trying very hard to keep my stress level as low as possible and avoid sleep deprivation as both tend to exascerbate my health issues. For now, that is enough to keep me busy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is a catastrophe

Last night I was talking to our neighbor about the fire. She is struggling much like I am (which is oddly comforting as it makes me feel like my feelings are NORMAL!). She recounted a conversation with a friend about the fact that the friend got that the fire was catastrophic, but it was hard for her to really believe that it was. It got me thinking. What is a catastrophe? defines catastrophe as 1) a sudden and widespread disaster or 2) any misfortune, mishap, or failure. The fire was certainly sudden. It swept up the hillside in a matter of minutes. Widespread? I think it's at least worth considering it as widespread since nineteen homes were greatly affected and several more had at least some damage. Disaster? Absolutely. The aftermath of the fire can only be described as a disaster scene (which is why Disaster Clean-Up was here, right?!).

The geologic definition of catastrophe is a "a sudden, violent disturbance, [especially] of a part of the surface of the earth." I also think that the fire qualifies under that definition. A violent disturbance is likely one of the best ways for me to describe the fire that I've found yet. Not only was it a violent disturbance to the Earth and the neighborhood landscape, but it has been a violent disturbance to my mental and emotional state.

I think back to the initial reaction by the community. I think that everyone would have agreed in the days after the fire that we had experienced a catastrophe. But I wonder if people still believe that. And if not, how can your opinion change so suddenly (or what feels sudden to me)? Is it over-exposure by the media? Is it simply time? Is it that we have new homes?

A lot of times I get the response that at least we have our health. As though that would be a catastrophe worth talking about (which it would). But that minimizes the struggles we've been through. I know that my physical health has been negatively impacted by the fire. I have been to the ER more times this year than I could possibly have imagined. I lost movement in half my face and still struggle with the lasting side effects of the nerve damage. Stress is a systemic issue, and this year has sunken me lower than what I thought possible.

But what I think it comes down to is that everyone has their traumas. For some it might be a cancer diagnosis. For others a car accident. For me, a house fire. And it's not fair to compare the traumas because in all of them there is a commonality of loss, of struggle, of an attempt to overcome. It's not for me or you to judge how anyone deals with that experience because we can't know another's pain or sense of loss. I have tried to convey here what it is that has made this loss so difficult. I'm still trying to figure that out for myself, really. What I recognize is that for me it was a catastrophe. For me, it has been difficult. But I also know that I have the strength to get through it... for what other choice do I have?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Frame of reference

Last night I went to the Indigo Girls concert at the Botanical Gardens with a group of other moms I've recently met. The night involved a lot of laughter (and a little bit of shushing), which was great.

I knew I needed to go to the concert because creating new memories is really important to me right now (hence the month o fun!). As we were sitting around laughing and talking I realized how difficult it is to have a conversation with anyone because of my frame of reference. All I can relate to is the fire.

Conversation about music? My thoughts are immediately about the fact that I was glad my iPod was in my purse so that I still have some music. Bring up car rides? I think of the fact that all of my CDs are gone and that my older model car doesn't have an iPod connection to get off my music. Mention getting a t-shirt from the concert? Yep, my thoughts are of the t-shirts I used to have.

The problem isn't that I lost my memories. Those are in my head. I lost all the things that connected me to those memories. And it makes me reach that much harder to create new memories, tangible post-fire memories that I can cling to so that the next concert I go to I think about how much fun I had at the last one rather than how even then it's a reminder of the fire.

(And a footnote post- if you happen to be having a conversation with me and I seem quiet or I do bring up the fire, know that this too will pass. In the same way that I can't relate to you right now, I understand you can't relate to that. But laughter, we can all relate to laughter.)

Q&A with Brooke

I posted this yesterday and then took it down. I needed time to think about how to respond to the question that was posed and decide whether the blogger Q&A was something I wanted to continue.

I was raised to believe that certain topics are off-limits. Not only do I think that the question was inappropriate, but I also believe that the manner/tone in which it was asked wasn't benign. Could I answer the question in a simple manner? Sure. But I don't think that it is appropriate, nor do I find any good reason to share that information. (And I also don't consider myself to be "out of work," but I will save that for another post.)

I have also thought about whether I would still open my comments up to questions from readers. For now, I will. I have changed my comments settings so that anonymous comments are not allowed. I have also made it so that comments have to be approved. I think it kind of defeats the purpose of the Q&A, but it is what I feel comfortable doing since "appropriate" means different things to different people.

With that said, I would love to answer appropriate (and non-mean-spirited) questions.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Month of Fun

Dan and I are trying to plan August as a month of fun in an attempt to bring joy back into our lives. We need your help!! What movies do you find ridiculously funny? What activities have you done that are funny or silly or joyful? What can we do with Kellen that will make us laugh (other than making him laugh, which is pretty funny!)?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yep, fire season is here

I got a call last night from a friend wanting to let me know not to worry about the smell of smoke that apparently was pretty strong. I hadn't gone outside. It was a hot day, and we were all a bit sick with a stomach bug.

I looked up the news to find out that a field near us had been on fire but had been put out. If had been put out, I would be able to sleep.

Shortly thereafter the news showed up to ask Dan how he felt about the fire. We didn't know much about it, and we are a little tired of press, so Dan told them he wouldn't talk on the record. They did BS for a short while, and the reporter asked him how he felt about the fire off the record. The guy said that the fire had burned some land and gotten close to a house, but no one had been hurt. Dan told him to look around. They are very different circumstances, and quite frankly the fact that nothing burned down and no one got hurt means that it was a pretty good night all things considered.

Kellen was having a hard time napping today, so we drove him around in the car. Eventually he passed out, so we drove some more and decided to check out the fire situation. We (wrongly) believed that the fire was somewhere near the sports complex and far enough away for me to feel safe. The fire was actually on the same hill as our fire, only 1/2-3/4 miles away. Are you kidding me?! And it burned a decent size plot of land.

This is the second fire in consecutive years. And the hill and surrounding land is still full of flammable brush and grass. I don't know what it will take for the city and the power company to decide that maintenance of that land is a priority. Where desert land interfaces with homes, there needs to be strict maintenance codes and ordinances to prevent devastating fires. I'm sure there are those that will argue that we shouldn't build there, but the reality is that most of this area was at some point a desert and that areas that are now green got that way by design. Unless we take some important measures to ensure that we green up these desert areas, the reality of another fire isn't just a fear, it's a possibility, and one that isn't necessarily remote. It makes me question our decision to rebuild here. It makes it more difficult for me to sleep at night. It makes me wonder if all the pandering over the last year and the concern shown by the city is real... or just an opportunity for positive PR. If the city is serious about cutting fire danger, they need to take serious measures. It's my hope they choose to do so.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Creating Joy

We went on vacation the end of March. I remember my mom telling me how easy it was to be around me, how much I had changed. And I felt it.

Then things changed. Maybe it was the fact that I stopped taking the happy pill, convinced it wasn't working. Maybe it was swine flu and the hysteria that ensued. Maybe it was our open house and that half the people who told us they were coming didn't. Regardless, I started on a slow decline to my current state, which has been a little off.

Last night Dan and I went out to dinner alone and then walked along the river talking. "If you could manifest five things in your life, what would they be?" I asked. And he listed his five. On my list- creating joy.

My six week challenge
is part of my joy creation. You reap what you sow (or karma), right? Seeking out laughter is another. We sat on our neighbor's driveway last night and laughed (really LAUGHED!). It felt normal and healthy and great. Buying myself a vase of pink gerber daisies every week is also part of my plan. I love pink gerber daisies, and seeing them in our house will not only make me smile but will make me appreciate our house more, maybe even start to like it. I'm going to finish setting up my office so that I can work in there as well as scrapbook. I'm going to try to get through Kellen's first six months by the end of the month. And when I wake up every morning I'm going to name five things I have to look forward to. Today that was Stroller Strides (my lovely group of fit mamas), acupuncture, a soy Chai from Java, alone time, and America's Got Talent.

What do you want to manifest in your life? And more importantly, what steps are you going to take to make them a reality?