Monday, February 28, 2011

What I wish I could say...

I've met so many amazing people because of this journey, this blog, people I never would have met if my house hadn't burned down and I hadn't been willing to chronicle our journey home.  I know this is just the beginning.  Hopefully when the non-profit site gets up and running we will serve as a resource to thousands.  I will know heartbreaking, painful stories, but we will all heal by sharing. 

But I sometimes find myself stuck, struggling to find the right words, when someone sends me their story. 

I want to say, "It's going to be ok" or "You'll find your way back to normal" or "There's a reason for all of this."  But I can't.  Those aren't the words that have settled into my heart. 

Will you be ok?  Maybe.  Probably.  Hopefully.  I've survived.  Some days that's enough.  Other days it doesn't feel like much at all.  There are still plenty of moments where I long for my life to return to the path I followed on August 24, 2008.  I don't want to hold these lessons.  I don't want the scars on my soul. 

My life is so so different from where it was the hours before the fire.  I've yet to intersect with the path I was on before the fire, and I imagine that I never will.  I likely will not return to teaching.  We probably would have moved.  I can't find my way back to that normal because that normal doesn't exist anymore for me.  Maybe others find their way back to their "before" life, but I know I won't.  Normal will always be different.

When someone shares their story with me, sometimes the best thing I can muster is, "I'm sorry" (which we all agree is better than "At least you're ok" right?!).  I wish I had more wisdom, some sense of how to help you heal.  I hope my words are enough.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The fire crested up over the ridge, taunting my ten-year old imagination.  I was inside, safe, and the fire was still a mile or so away.  But the vivid orange and red hues scared me as I hid in the daylight basement of my grandmother’s house.  I was supposed to be sleeping.  It was well after midnight.  Instead, I pulled the blanket up to my chin and watched the blaze conquer the mountaintop. 

My mom was out there somewhere, pretending to be a hero.  I wanted her inside, helping us assemble turkey and roast beef sandwiches for the firefighters. 

Mom was in Idaho for her annual summer visit, a diversion for me from child care and a father too caught up in his life as an attorney to enjoy our “vacation.”  I spent the weeks leading up to her arrival planning our time together: lunch at Vista deli, a few nights at the ranch, sliding down the dusty slide, riding along in the early morning to feed the cattle, pretending I knew something more about a cow than the noise it made.

We picked her up at the airport earlier that day, drove down the street to Vista deli where my mom ordered a grilled cheese on rye.  We piled back into the car, my mom, sister, grandmother, and me, leaving Boise behind via the interstate.  We passed the orange and white water tower that sat on the edge of the city and entered miles of sagebrush and dirt.  We pulled off I-84 at the Stage Stop and started down the dirt road that led to my mom’s childhood home.  Years before it had been a town complete with a one-room schoolhouse and a dance hall.  All that was left now was the cemetery.

In the days that followed, that fire circled my grandparents' ranch, destroyed acres of land, and threatened the structures that held so many memories of a town far beyond its time.  The houses remained.

Now that I’m older, now that I’ve been through my own wildfire and have lost my house, I can better understand that fire, understand my mom's desire to fight for her childhood home.  Home is more than just the physical walls we set up around us.  The land that my grandfather lost, the cattle that died are a part of his identity.  His home is far more than the bed where he lays his head.  It’s so easy for those looking in to assume that as long as the house is still standing and we are still breathing that those losses can be recaptured.  But there are invisible losses in a fire, whether it be identity or security or memories.  As a ten year old, watching the fire crest over the rim, I lost a little bit of my naivety.  That summer visit wasn't about sliding down slides or picking raspberries.  Bad things sometimes do happen.  And sometimes, unfortunately, we lose it all.

This week's TRDC prompt:

Part I
Make a list of some of your most vivid childhood (or more recent) memories. (Maybe it’s an image of your father or mother doing something they did regularly; maybe it’s a visit to a grandmother’s house.)

Jot down a few memories and then pick one and write it down in as much detail as possible. (Take 10-15 minutes to do that…)

Part II
Now I want you to investigate what this memory means to you. Ask yourself the following questions: Why has this stuck with me? What did this mean to me at the time? Why did I (or someone else in the scene) react the way I (they) did? How does it feel to look back on it? How does it still affect me (or not)? (Take 10-15 minutes to do that.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

And the winning logo is...

Click over to my Facebook page to see which logo I selected.  I took into account some very helpful advice from my friend Erin about how the logo would look when printed.  I also love how the logo I chose really embodies the spirit of the Life After the Fire organization.

Facebook Widgets

Recovering from PTSD

At this weekend's Light My Fire event, I had the chance to sit next to some incredible people, old friends and new ones.  Because most of the attendees are members of the insurance industry, we had to explain our story when asked, "What company are you with?"  This conversation led to another one about PTSD, and one of the women at the table shared her own story, unrelated to fires, but heartbreaking nevertheless.

"Are you better?" she asked, the desperation in her tone only audible I imagine to those who have walked that path.

"Yes," I said.  "Mostly."

It was then I realized that I hadn't talked much more about my PTSD here, even though there are a number of other fire survivors who have found me specifically because I HAVE talked about it.

For me, the worst part of the PTSD was the dreams.  I could try to escape fires all day long, making conscious choices that kept me from having to relive the fire.  But the fires always came to me in my dreams, burning my house down more frequently than Channel 2's repetitive news reel.  Two years later, the nightmares are finally gone.  Do I think it's likely that I won't ever have another fire dream?  No.  And I'm sure when I do, it will be jarring.  But at least for now, I can sleep at night.

The anxiety is still present.  After Kellen's swim lesson this morning I heard several fire engines screaming down the road, and I panicked.  Please don't go to my house.  I think I have gotten a little better about not needing to look out my bedroom window every time I hear sirens, but it is a conscious effort not to do so more than it is because I am not concerned.  I still take xanax frequently, especially at night when my anxiety seems to escalate.  I've stopped fighting my need for this medication, but rather look at it as a tool for recovery.

I don't like when Dan goes out of town.  I worry about what I would do in the event of a fire, if I trusted myself enough to go into the smoke to get Kellen and get out of the house.  I know it's a sick thought, but it keeps me awake when I am home alone.  Sometimes I bring him in with me, and then I worry if I were to die in my sleep what would happen.  Sometimes this PTSD kicks your ass, you know, even if it's irrational.

I still don't know how much of my health is related to the stress and anxiety after the fire.  My nervous system seems to be having a hard time finding normal, and it operates mostly in a hyper-alert state.

But I am better.  Mostly.  I spent over a year in therapy.  I went to a hypnotherapist, which has worked to reduce anxiety.  I write frequently about the fire, the emotional trauma, the reasons it caused me so much pain.  I think that helps make sense of our loss.  I try to focus my energy on helping others who have to go through this experience.  And on the days that are really bad, I remember that this is just one day, that I am only required to tackle the moment immediately in front of me.  With PTSD, that's enough.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Good night Kellen

The Red Dress Club gives out weekly writing prompts and links up other writers and bloggers.  This week's prompt was:
Imagine that after you have died and your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.

“Where’s doggy and binky?” I ask, ready to say "good night" and take a deep breath after a full day of parenting.

“I no know,” Kellen says, looking up at me with his bright blue eyes, head slightly cocked. “Where?” he asks, lifting his arms and shrugging.

“Let’s go find them,” I say.

I open my arms wide, extending my hands out to my side. “Neerrrooommmmpppp,” I say, hoping this game will minimize resistance. Kellen opens his arms behind me and repeats the sound.

“Airpwanes,” he says.

We fly down the hall, my bare feet sinking into the carpet.

I round the corner into Kellen’s room.

“Coming in for a landing,” I say, picking Kellen up over my head and gently rolling him into his bright blue and orange comforter.

He grabs his crocheted dog. After the fire, we were given so many stuffed animals, but it was the blue handcrafted dog that he gravitated to in the days where his only forms of communication were averting his eyes and crying or laughter.

“Which books?” I ask.  

“Uhhh,” he says. “Llama ‘jama.” I know he’s going to pick Llama Llama Red Pajama and already have it tucked under me as I lay in bed next to him.

“Two more,” I say.  I limit the stories to three a night, knowing I would never get time to read adult fiction if I didn't.

Goodnight Train,” he says, and then, “tired,” referring to I’m Really Not Tired.

I lug myself out of his twin bed and walk over to the half-painted bookcase my step-father made. I lay back down pulling Kellen into my chest. He holds doggy by the tail and rubs it along the base of his nose.  If I had to bottle up the feeling of love it would be this moment.

I start reading about Samuel McKay and his ardent belief that his mommy and daddy have all the fun once he goes to sleep. It’s one of my new favorites.

“CCCCRRREEEAAAAAAKKKKKK,” I say when I get to the part where the noisy step gives Samuel away. Kellen chortles, a laugh so genuine it could only come from an unhardened two year old.

We say good night to the McKays and then the train and move on to the last book.  I'm both anticipating and dreading the end of story time, my mommy identity colliding with my individual one.

I quickly thumb past the title page of Llama Llama Red Pajama when Kellen whines. I start over and turn every page slowly, pointing out the pictures.

“Keln,” he says, just like he does every time he sees an “e” written anywhere.

“Llama Llama Red Pajama reads a,” I say.

"Story with his mama,” Kellen continues.  We trade off as we turn the pages, Kellen finishing each line and pausing for me to kiss his head or call down to mama llama.

“Baby llama goes to sleep,” Kellen says.

“And now Kellen goes to sleep,” I say.

I move Kellen’s head from my chest to his blue, train pillow.

“Car blankie or green blankie?” I ask, holding each up.

“Green blankie,” he says, laughing.

I pull the green blankie over his body, careful not to lose doggy under the covers. I put car blankie on top.
“Mommy kisses,” I say, kissing him. “Butterfly kisses,” I add as I brush my eyelashes on his cheek.

“Other butterfly,” he says, turning his head so I can kiss his other cheek.

“I love you Kellen,” I say.

I walk over to his Leapfrog in the corner and turn on his ten minutes of music.

I blow a kiss. Kellen presses his tiny hand into his car binky, then puts it out to blow.

“Oh, thank you,” I say, grabbing the invisible kiss.

“Oh, thank you,” he repeats with his hand on his ear.

I turn off the light.

“Sweet dreams punkin,” I say.

“Sweet dreams punkin,” I hear him say as the door closes.

Good night my sweet boy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life After the Fire logo options

As many of you know, I am working on getting a website up to provide valuable information for those who've lost their homes in a fire.  The web designer has a tentative completion date of the first of May.  I also had a design contest on to get a logo designed.

I have five days to pick a finalist, and I'm struggling with my decision, so I'd love if you had any input!  One of the designs I loved I actually decided against after a few people gave me their impression.  It wasn't the look I was going for!  I have a poll at the bottom, and I'd love more specific feedback about why you liked or didn't like a specific design if you're willing to share!




Which design do you like best?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oh the wonderful world of rejection

Today's Stats:
Queries sent - 15 (all email)

Form rejections - 4
Rejection but pass on to colleague - 1
Requests for material - 2
Rejection on full proposal - 2 (though one is from an agent who is transitioning out of publishing and no longer taking on new clients, so that's like 2 with an asterisk)

Queries still out on submission - 9

For those writers out there, is AMAZING.  I love that I can keep track of all my submissions and read helpful information about turnaround time.

I got a very helpful rejection from the agent who had my material.  I don't believe in copying personal letters, so I won't do that, but I will say that it is perhaps the nicest way I've ever been rejected before.  The start of the book seems to illicit the most discussion from writing professionals with impassioned proponents on either side: (a) to start the book AT the fire or (b) to start the book before the fire so that the reader is invested in the narrator before everything is lost.  It's this back and forth that has stalled my writing before.  I'm trying to press on despite another mark in the start at the fire column. 

I've revised my query a little bit, and I'm likely going to submit different sample chapters to the next agent. 

I'm also trying to remember that I'm in good company.  There are dozens of stories of very successful authors being rejected over and over (John Grisham rejected by 16 agents for A Time to Kill). 

It's really tough getting rejected especially when I believe so strongly in my story and my writing, but I'm learning to let myself cry for a minute and then pick up the computer and send out another letter.  After all, it only takes one person to say "yes."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Updates on Life After the Fire

If you read the blog on the web (as opposed to subscribing through a blog reader), you will probably notice that I am redesigning again.  As a kid I used to rearrange my bedroom a few times a year, and changing my blog's look is my way of rearranging.

You might notice a Facebook link on the sidebar.  I'm working on making that a little less obtrusive, but I wanted you to know that I now have a FB site.  This allows me to maintain a presence on Facebook while also keeping some degree of privacy on my regular page.

I also have been working with a blog designer to start the process of actually creating the Life After the Fire website.  I'm really excited about this project, and I've already been contacting some experts for interviews, specifically on PTSD.  In the meantime, you can read some of their projects (The PTSD Workbook, Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents, The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship).

I'm also going to be setting up a resources page on the blog, so you'll likely see a move to a three column design soon to accommodate that.  I get a lot of hits to my post about What to Do When Someone's House Burns Down.  I am going to be adding a few more posts to provide even more information for those who lose their home as well as family and friends who want to help.

The same web designer is going to be building my personal website where I can link published work and my blog.

I already feel so much more productive this year.  I am, unfortunately, still sick, and I don't know when or if we'll ever know why or how to help.  But I am happy to be off antibiotics, and I'm hoping to stay Lyme-free for a long time.

Thanks for reading the blog, for liking me on Facebook, for holding my hand as I sorted through the ashes of my home and survived facial paralysis and killed off bacteria and now worked on my book and other projects.  I have the best family and friends and internet pals.  Thank you!