Saturday, February 27, 2010

Disaster Planning

Today I went with my mom's group to a fire station to tour the fire engine. I also had a chance to talk with the moms about fire preparedness, but I think it applies to all disasters. As I said to them, it is so likely that you will never need to be prepared. But I never thought I would need to be either. Nor did the millions of people who have lost their homes in the last two decades. Some of this is repetitive, but I want to share it anyway.

1. Have a plan! Have a plan. Have a plan. Have a plan. The ten minutes I sat by the road waiting for Dan to come out of our home were agonizing. I can only imagine if he had gone out the other direction and we had been separated for hours. His cell phone was dead, and I wouldn't have known where to find him until he touched base with me. Now that I have a child, I can only imagine that the panic would be heightened, with each of us uncertain of the other's whereabouts... and that of Kellen. Please talk with your family TONIGHT about where you would meet in the event of a disaster (and don't rely on your cell phones).

2. Protect your data. While our fire was unique and hotter than most, I have heard enough stories about fire safes failing to not trust them with the documents and life possessions I find the most valuable. There are so many ways to backup data (thumb drive, external hard drive) that are fairly inexpensive. I encourage you to put the thumb drive (or whatever you use) in your safety deposit box (which I recommend over the fire safe) or give it to a family member who doesn't live with you or next door to you!

3. Take Pictures! Get out your camera (or video camera) and film your house. Open the drawers. Get pictures of the garage. Go up in the attic. Recreating your life's contents from memory is one of the hardest things I've ever done (*and* I've read studies on the reliability of memory!). Put those pictures/video somewhere safe (please not in your house!). There are companies who do this if you don't want to do it yourself.

4. READ your insurance policy. Please. (And if you are a renter, PLEASE consider renter's insurance.)

5. Review your policy.
Look over your insurance policy to make sure you are properly covered. If something were to happen, you could be out $50,000 or MORE just because you weren't properly covered. Check for replacement value coverage, and if you don't have it, talk to your insurance agent about the costs and benefits of adding it.

Have you purchased something in the past year that should be itemized? Make sure to update your policy if you have.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing about the fire

I've been working hard.

Writing.

Writing.

Writing.

It's hard though, writing about the fire. It's emotional, so so emotional.

I relive the moments before the fire as though I can actually know that innocence again. I relive the panic and fear in the moments after, moments that are truly burned into my memory. I can see myself sitting in my friend's living room not wanting to go into their guest room to watch the fire unfold live on television. I can still feel the hope in my heart that we would have a home to return to the next day.

I can still smell the propane and burned plastic that lingered in the air for weeks. I can feel the fiberglass shards in my throat. The ash floats in the air and continues to burn my eyes.

I go there in my mind when I write, reliving the joy, the fear, the hope, the pain, the heartbreak.

It's uncomfortable.

But ultimately it's cathartic. Mostly.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Minimalism

I clicked on a link to a blog about minimalism recently.

Before the page was even loaded I was thinking, "To be so naive." I'm not unbiased. I don't claim to be.

There was a post about a man in Australia who was giving away his millions, and the author wrote something about how it was another example that joy was not to be found in stuff.

To be so naive.

The whole concept of minimalism has filtered in and out of my thoughts often since the fire. I don't think I'm an overly materialistic person (though the person who commented about my frustration over re-ordering Pottery Barn picture frames has often made me wonder if I come across that way). I like things. I have attachment to my things. I guess if that makes me materialistic, I am.

But it's not just the stuff. It's the meaning behind the stuff. I think most of our stuff has a story. And for me, a writer, the story is a property of the item, and it cannot be removed from the "stuff."

It's one thing when we choose to get rid of our possessions, enter a life of non-attachment, non-stuffness. But even then, I wonder if there are still things for which we are attached. Buddhist monks, for example, are known to beg for food, holding out bowls in which they are given nourishment. Do those monks have an attachment to their bowls? Can they not tell their bowl's story? Is that bowl not stuff?

When our possessions are forcefully taken from us, I think we have an even deeper attachment to the things, even if the day before we were considering taking those things to the Thrift Store so that they could continue their journey and give someone else a story.

I don't know if my stuff gives me joy, per se. But I do know that the loss of it gives me pain.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why continue to blog?

I have been thinking a lot about this blog lately as I work on a website that brings together various writing projects and hosts my blogs on one site. This blog has been so critical for me in documenting my experience through the fire (and has been invaluable as I work on my book proposal). But as time goes on, what will this blog's focus be? Does this blog change to be more reflective of my life in general? Do I continue to write about how the fire has affected me and our family?

I think the answer is a little bit of both. As I mentioned, I am working on merging my blogs into one site so that I have one piece of land in cyberspace. But I don't want this blog to simply be my musings on daily life, the food I eat, the home decor, the diapers I change. There is relevance in continuing to talk about the fire. It is like any major event in a person's life. There was before. And now there is after. And the line that delineates the two is as wide as a canyon and colors the perspective of "after" indefinitely.

Dan and I often talk about things as BF (Before Fire) and AF (After Fire). As time passes, this becomes more challenging to determine, but for us distinguishing our lives in those terms is incredibly important. It allows us to compartmentalize our experience. It gives our perspective depth and meaning. And because of that, talking about the way in which the fire changed our lives is never irrelevant.

On my new website, I have a quote from William Wordsworth that says, "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." That line speaks to me as I share with the world all of who I am. Through these words I share my heart, my breath. And in the end, there is catharsis. That's why I write, and why I will continue to write here and write about the fire.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympics

I have always been enamored by the Olympics. I don't watch a lot of sports (other than Wimbeldon), but for two weeks every two years, I am a homebody with the television on all day. When Kerri Strug fell and busted her foot, I was recording it. I had hours and hours and hours of the 1996 olympics on tape (thank goodness for DVR!). So it's not a stretch to say that I am ridiculously excited for tonight.

Except...

It's been nearly a year and a half since the beautiful opening ceremonies in Beijing. August 2008. As has become tradition during the Olympics, I had pulled out my sewing machine and was working on a project. (I can only sit still for an hour or so before I get a little antsy, and sewing was the perfect project.) I was working on a Christmas stocking for Dan since he didn't have one, and I had grown up with handmade stockings. It was crazy quilted, and I was so proud. I had just finished it as the closing ceremonies drew the Olympics to an end. It was August 24. That date would have been just another date, and my time sewing that stocking just another memory were it not for what happened the next day.

The two weeks I spent watching the Olympics... the two weeks I spent making Dan's stocking and starting our unborn son's... gone. The stockings... gone. These Olympics are bittersweet and another reminder of what was. And what now is. I shouldn't be watching the Olympics on a large flatscreen television. I should be watching them on my 26" hybrid (not an old tube TV but not yet a hi-def flatscreen). I should be pulling out fabric and my sewing machine. But I don't have one.

The Olympics is also a reminder of the passage of time. It doesn't seem like we should be a whole Olympics removed from the fire. But we are.

Tonight we watch as the Olympic torch is once again lighted to commemorate the theft of fire by Prometheus. The myth says that he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the mortals. Fire- a gift to give life. As we watch the flame ignited tonight, we remember that though fire can temporarily dampen our souls, there is a spark that lives on inside us. Tonight I celebrate not only the start of the Olympics but the flame as a gift of life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Twenty-Seven

Several years ago I had my astrology chart done. I know there are many who don't buy into the occult, but I have always been fascinated by energies, and this interests me. One of the things George told me was that I would change direction when I was twenty-seven. When the fire happened, I thought maybe he was a year too late, but the more I think about it, the more I think he was right.

The fire did change my life. And the fire has been the catalyst for the direction I am now taking. But recovery from the fire was at least a year in the making, and it is only now that I am able to look forward, now that I'm twenty-seven.

I have always been a writer. I used to carry around a notebook and write horrible poems that rhymed about teen angst. I wrote a story about Hopper, a frog whose parents were divorced, when I was in fifth grade (at Riverside Elementary), and I was awarded a prize. I was proud. I've taken a dozen or more writing classes. But when I went to college, the life of a writer seemed so uncertain. Politics, and writing about politics, made me happy. But I never left writing behind.

I co-founded a newspaper in college, at The George Washington University, which was fun albeit short-lived. All of my papers are now ash. I worked at the Washington City Paper and worked for a company writing about proposed legislation. After college I went to the University of Denver for a summer to study publishing. I wanted to be an editor. But a short stint in New York brought me to Idaho. I wanted a life focused on family and home. It wasn't a lack of drive. I had that in spades. It was a lack of space. I moved to Boise intent on starting a writing career.

Instead I started teaching. I thought that was the change in direction George had alluded to (even if I wasn't twenty-seven), and I started trying to manipulate my path so that it would change (according to MY plans when I got to this age). I fully expected to go back to teaching, but I didn't. The fire left me without energy, beaten, broken.

But it is also the fire that has given me new life, a path. It has made me a writer once again. And this time, I am solid in where I am, secure in my words. I am not a scared twenty-four year old resisting rejection. I am a confident twenty-seven year old who knows what I have to say matters. I believe in sharing my story, this story. It hasn't been manufactured or forced. It's organic. And authentic.

I'm twenty-seven. And my life is starting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Light My Fire Event!

Last night was the Light My Fire fundraiser. It is such a great event for us to be able to give back to a fund that helped us out so much. In the coming years, it is my hope to get more fire survivors involved with the fundraiser because I really do believe there are more of us who would be eager to support this organization.

Going to this event allowed me to refocus on my mission, which is getting the Life After the Fire non-profit organized and filed so that we can work on our first fundraiser, which I am planning for August 25, 2010, the second anniversary of the fire.

I need a few people locally to serve on the board of this non-profit. I would like to have at least one fireman. I need a board, so if you have any interest, PLEASE let me know, even if I don't *know* you (life_after_the_fire@yahoo.com).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Growing through discomfort

Dan and I have been going to a local nondenominational church recently. The message has been positive, which we appreciate. This last week was a sermon on getting to a place where you are your best self. A few things the pastor said really resonated with me.

"Give thanks in all circumstances." This is still really difficult for me. As I have written before, it is very difficult for me to see the fire as an opportunity, much less a blessing. It was an event. Tragic. But it has also created a life path for me that I didn't know I was supposed to be on. It is allowing me to give voice to so many other people. I am working (when I have time) on the Life After the Fire book, and I believe that the fire has shown me opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise seen. I'm still not thankful. But I am getting to a place where I can see past the pain.

"The spirit does not spark in a place of comfort." Whatever the word spirit means to you, I believe that we all recognize that we have something deeper inside of us that is constantly learning and growing. The message was that the "spirit" cannot grow or shine its brightest as long as we stay in a place of comfort. For many of us, we must choose to stretch ourselves outside of our comfort zone. I also believe that many of us are presented with circumstances that require us to go outside that comfort regardless of our choice (i.e. an ill parent, a lost job, a fire). Speaking from experience, it is in those moments that I have learned the most about myself and been given the greatest opportunity for growth in myself. In that way I suppose the fire is an opportunity.

The ultimate point of the sermon was that through this growth we get to a place where we are our best selves. It is still hard for me to want to believe that through the fire I will become a better me. But in my heart I know that is true.