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?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Laughter... and a challenge

I was talking to my mom today, and she mentioned that it sounded like I wanted people to come wallow with me. I hope that's not the impression I've given. I don't need to talk about the fire anymore than I already do. What I wanted to say, and I suppose I haven't been good about it, is that I need people to go to coffee with or on a walk with. I need people to LAUGH with and find joy with. I need laughter back in my life. I want to get to a new normal where life isn't all about the fire and where I can just be with my friends, just be happy, just be. I would love to sit around for a few hours and just laugh...

And a challenge:

A friend
of mine has had a very rough spring. A group of my online friends (the same ones who were oh so generous to us!) arranged to send them a care package a week for a while. This last week was my week. I baked up some goodies, threw in some gift cards, printed out some lyrics I thought would speak to her, and timed the package to arrive on a day I knew would be hard for her. As soon as she got the package, she called and told me how much that had meant to her. It is several weeks from their loss(es) and yet she told me she looks forward to those weekly packages. I know how she feels.

But the packages have stopped for us. The cards have stopped. Even the emails have stopped. I sent out over 200 thank you cards to people who were there in the beginning, and now... Occasionally a friend will pick up on our story on Facebook and send me a message. It might be three sentences, but it means the world to me to know people are thinking about us.

As I was writing the card to my friend, I was thinking how out of style cards are, and the cards that are sent seem more obligatory for a specific event rather than meaningful. Not that the cards aren't appreciated, but the message is lost a little, I think, when it feels obligatory rather than a genuine card with a message inside, whether it's of thanks, of joy, of sorrow.

That's when I decided to embark upon a six week mission. And I hope you will join me (and let me know that you've joined me!). For the next six weeks, send a card to someone you know. It doesn't have to be someone who is going through a difficult time because we all have low moments and moments where we need to be recognized. Write a meaningful message inside. You could even enclose some cookies or a Starbucks card, though that isn't required!

Let me know how it goes. I will check in weekly to let you know how I'm doing. I think it might even help lift me up a little myself, though that's not my motive for sending the cards.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Power poles

I have read many of the comments to the Statesman articles. I know I shouldn't. The people who comment don't have a clue as to what really happened or how the land was maintained. But one of the comments made me think this last week. I'm addressing it here because I think that many people have probably had similar thoughts.

We live right next to the power sub station. Off of the hillside are giant metal power poles. Our neighbor's two-story high pitched roof barely covers the poles. And they dance across a field from giant pole to giant pole. It was my only concern about moving into this neighborhood. I wasn't worried about the field catching fire. I was mostly concerned about the electromagnetic fields (especially because of my belief in how affected we can be by energy fields).

A lot of people have privately (or at least not directly) commented about our decision to live near the power lines. I wish they would ask us directly, but that's irrelevant at this point. The first answer I have is that every neighborhood has some inherent risk. Why would you live that close to the canal? In a flood plane? On an active fault line? We can only minimize risk so much. But the thing that I've been thinking about lately is the reality that the power pole that sparked the fire is one of the small wooden poles. It is no different from the one you have in your neighborhood. It wasn't the giant line connected to the sub. Rebuilding here is no more dangerous than building in a neighborhood that accesses power (other than maybe the fact that fire goes faster uphill).

I hope that provides a little clarification. There are other things that should be clarified but for one reason or another, we're not able to do that. Just know that everything you read isn't the whole story.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Broken. That's the name of the font for my new header. I've been messing with the layout (again), and that's the font. It's Broken.

I feel broken.

I was looking at pictures yesterday from before the fire. Pictures of when I lived in New York. Pictures of when I met Dan. That's all I have left. And what I noticed is that I look happy. I haven't seen that face in months. Even the picture on the front of the Statesman when I'm laughing even though I'm digging through the ashes of my past, I look happy.

I thought it would get better, this grieving. I thought that by the time a year passed I would have more good days than bad ones. I thought that I would look at my home and think, "it's ok" and "this is my home now." But I don't.

I wish I could take a pill and make it better, give me back my house, my year. But no drug can do that. Meanwhile, I feel broken. Just like the title. This is my life after the fire.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Karmic debt

**If you are offended by religious posts that aren't in agreement with your particular religion, this might be a post you want to skip.**

I was reading one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain, the other day, and the dog is talking (yes, the dog is the narrator) about Karma. He was mentioning how karma always seems to catch up with a person, in this life or the next.

No one ever wants to say that someone deserved something bad happening to them, and they certainly won't admit that maybe they deserved it. On some level I wonder if this wasn't a part of my karmic debt.

It's easier to say it was a spiritual lesson, that it is a means of teaching non-attachment. And I'm not discounting that. If it wasn't intended to teach me that lesson, it has been a special bonus. If it was meant to teach me about emotional well-being, it has also done that. But it was such a trauma, and done so publicly, I also wonder about my karma.

If it was a means of repaying some kind of karmic debt, the good thing is that it is done. And I hope that settles my repayment.

I'm still working on this idea of using the fire as an opportunity. It is a new beginning. I have no doubts about that. More to come as we approach the anniversary- 46 days and counting.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I am a big believer in Chinese medicine (and Eastern philosophy in general, as the many Buddhas in my house will attest). I have been wondering lately about Karmic debt and spiritual lessons (but I will save that for another post). Today I went to the Wellspring Clinic and had an Amma bodywork session done. We were talking about liver deficiencies, which much of what is going on in my body seems to suggest (at least it's an answer- the Western medical establishment tells me they don't know and probably won't ever know). The emotion associated with the liver is anger.

I have spent hours tonight thinking about this, on the verge of tears. Part of the grief cycle is anger, and yet I'm not sure I've ever really allowed myself to be angry about the fire. Sad, oh so sad. But angry? I've expressed anger towards those I love, as is typical of PTSD. But that's not a)healthy and b)rational. The anger doesn't belong on Dan. He certainly didn't cause the fire.

But I am angry. I'm angry that the land below our house wasn't properly maintained. I'm angry that Dan and I put so many hours into making our house a home and landscaping and in minutes that hard work was destroyed. I'm angry that I had to bring my baby home to a house that wasn't his, wasn't ours. I'm angry that instead of enjoying my son this last year, I have been consumed with insurance paperwork, house plans, moving, and all the BS that comes with living in a new house (like the fact that our smoke alarm goes off if a vacuum is plugged into a certain outlet- irony is so ironic!). I'm angry that after feeling on top of the world, I now feel like I'm drowning in it. I'm angry that the wind wasn't blowing another direction... any other direction... that night. I'm angry that the abandoned property behind us is a fire hazard and that in the midst of all the crap we still have to deal with, one neighbor, Dan, and I were over there in 90+ degree heat pulling out dead trees and whacking cheat grass. I'm angry that everyone else gets to keep on their paths, perhaps without reflection or thought, while I'm sitting in a place of change so great and overwhelming that it is making me dizzy (actually making me dizzy).

I have a lot more to say in the next few days. I plan on making the most of my remaining six weeks of grief. Today I am angry.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sadness... and happiness

My birthday was last Friday. I spent it relaxing, which was a great treat given this year. I remember my mom's card from last year, which I sadly lost in the fire. It said something to the effect of hoping all my dreams came true this year. While in a way, they did, it certainly didn't happen in a way that I would have liked. I got my son. I have a beautiful house in which to raise him. And I got to stay home with him because of ongoing medical issues, some of which are related to the fire.

In reflecting on this last year and preparing for this next one, I told myself that I get to be sad until August 25th, and then I need to pick up and move on. I know that there will still be days that I am sad, but I cannot continue to sit in a bed of grief (literally). There are days I don't want to leave my bed. There are days I don't. August 25th marks the end of the year of transition. Like my birthday, it marks a new beginning, a rebirth, a passage.

I recognize that to some extent grief is a choice. I have allowed myself to be sad and to mourn the loss of my house, and in some ways, my old identity. And I believe that is important to heal. So grief, make the most of the next six weeks. Because I'm moving on.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

Apparently a neighborhood burning down 2 streets away isn't enough to deter many of you from boldly and stupidly setting off illegal fireworks. My neighbors and I thank you as we had to watch in fear as you set off your pretty fireworks worrying that the dry grass in someone's ill-maintained yard (or in the abandoned house with cheatgrass behind us) would catch fire. To the kids that set off fireworks in the sagebrush, you are lucky that you were able to put the fire out with the hose. I hope that the police scared you straight. I know that you all think you are invincible, that you won't have to go through what we did. I'm sure most of you didn't have to experience that tonight. But bad stuff can and does happen. And I just don't think that fireworks are so cool to take that chance.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fireworks safety

I am asking that you please use fireworks safely this weekend. Remember that we live in a desert and that just beyond the houses is highly flammable grass. I think it is a great time to also teach your children about using fireworks safely.

There have already been fires reported from illegal and unsafe fireworks, and I expect that will continue through the weekend.

Remember that fireworks are illegal in the foothills. While Columbia Village isn't technically considered part of the foothills, Boise is trying to change many of the housing codes to match the foothills because of the lack of buffer between houses and desert land. It is much safer to watch the city's show (you can see them great from here!). Having your home burn down is not an experience I wish upon anyone, and if you can prevent an accident, please do.