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.