Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Home inventory

One of the absolute worst projects after the fire was trying to create our contents list from memory of 1400 square feet plus a garage with who knows what in it.  Our contents list was 50 pages of an Excel spreadsheet, and I'm pretty certain it was only 3/4 of our things. 

If you want to know how hard it is to recreate your home in your mind, close your eyes right now, imagine the space, and then write down everything you think is in there, including the brand.  Then take your list into that space and see how much you forgot.  It's like that game where there are ten items that you have to remember, except multiplied exponentially... and done under duress.

It is unlikely that your home will burn down (or a tornado will level your house or a flood will come through taking everything downstream).  But... it CAN happen, and it can happen to YOU. 

Other than having a plan for your family, which is of the highest importance, creating a home inventory is probably the best thing to do before a disaster.  And if you never need it, at least you know everything in your home! 

I have struggled with wanting to create a new contents list because the old one was so emotionally taxing.  But I know it's important, and I'm starting to work on it, one room at a time. 

In doing research for some of the resources for the new website (which should be ready by August 1), I found this home inventory system.  It's free.  I just set up our house in it with each room and closet labeled.  It even has categories of items so that you can add quickly.  Honestly, I wish I could have used this right after the fire.  It likely would have made the inventory list easier.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fire Survivor blogs

I'd like to create a list of fire survivor blogs for others who might need it.  If you add your blog in the comments, I will add it to my list.

Life After the Fire
Burning Down the House
From Under the Piles
Fire Survivors

We are a small group, eh?

There is another blog PTSD Ministry, written by a fire chaplain that you might also find helpful.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Asking for money is hard

If you are a friend of my Facebook page, you might have seen my donation request for a friend who lost her home in the Minot flood this week.  (If you'd like to donate, go here.)

One of the things that talking to her made me reflect on was our culture's view on asking for help.  In those first few days after the fire, we needed so much help: time, money, food.  And yet, it was almost impossible for me to ask.  I wanted to believe that I could do this on my own, even though I desperately wanted to reach out to others.  It was ESPECIALLY hard to ask for money.  It even makes me a little uncomfortable now thinking about receiving money.  Thankfully, others asked for me, and we were able to get the help we needed.

I think for a lot of us, being able to stand up and say we can't do this alone or with our own resources is very difficult, in part perhaps because of our pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of mentality.  Our culture is very individualistic, which is great in so many ways.  However, we sometimes forget about the needs of others - or maybe not forget but sometimes don't look out enough to see the needs of others.  I can tell you that having to do ask for help is very humbling.  I was amazed by what our community, my friends' communities, strangers were willing to do for me once we were able to say we needed help.

I feel like I'm rambling.  I probably am.  I guess my point is that it's really hard to ask for help, even in our time of need.  Today, my friend needs help.  And I'm willing to ask for help for her.  Their family does not have flood insurance.  She has three small children.  And I know that anything you can give to them will be used to help them rebuild their lives, lives that, unfortunately, will never be the same.  One of the things I vowed as others helped us is that we would continue to pay it forward.  It's why we're starting the non-profit.  Helping Jessica is just one more way for me to continue to give (and allow others to give) in thanks for all of those who gave to us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

National Pink Day

How did I not know today was National Pink Day?

I love pink, so much so that I think my mom was worried when I registered for wedding gifts my house would become its own Mary Kay lady hell.  (To be clear, light pink has never been my thing.  The bolder, the pinker, the better.)

I try to keep my pink love in check.  The walls of our house are beige; the kitchen plates are dark purple; the living room walls are olive green.  But my office?  Pink!  I learned quickly that if you want a pink rug as an adult, you have to shop at Pottery Barn kids.  And buy junior size scissors.

From my couch, I can see my pink Franklin Covey purse, Pink Garden Tool Bag, and Pink KitchenAid Mixer.  I have a pink laptop bag, and my new favorite shoes are my Born laceups.  I have at least five pink shirts for every season.  And quite frankly I would have a bright pink car if I didn't think it would make the road a little less safe.

I love pink so much that my son has also declared his love for the color, to the point that I'm starting to think that even if I don't have a daughter, I could still get the pink room I have lusted after for the past decade.

I love pink.  And now I love it even more because it has its very own day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I want a redo

My step-sister gave birth to her son early yesterday morning.  I got to hold the tiny little boy last night.  It's not helping the baby fever!

I'm pretty certain that nearly everyone I went to high school or college with is either pregnant or just had a baby.  I am surrounded by babies.

As I wrote about earlier, we are having a hard time determining how to complete our family because of my health issues.  I've thought a lot about this, and I think one of the reasons I want to be pregnant is that I just want a ReDo.  I know that probably sounds insane.  I was pregnant; I had a beautiful son.

But I also had a horrible, traumatic experience in the midst of it.  I didn't get to prepare the nursery and bring my son home.  All the work we did, all the excitement we had was gone.  I read about all my friends' pregnancies, and, quite frankly, I'm jealous.  (And selfishly, I wish just one would reach out and say that they thought of me in those last weeks and, even if they couldn't understand, at least thought about how hard it might have been to lose everything.)  I want a pregnancy redo. 

I want to decorate the nursery.  I want to bring my child home to OUR house.  I want to sit around enjoying my child instead of running around town meeting with contractors.  I want to be able to smile at our infant when he smiles at us instead of worrying about whether I'll ever smile again.  I don't want to sleep through the first year wondering if the doctors are ever going to figure out what's wrong with me. 

I just want a normal, uneventful life, a normal, uneventful pregnancy.  And part of me is afraid I'll never get those things.  And even if we did, it can't undo the one that wasn't.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Michael Buble's HOME

If you've seen my house video, you know that Michael Buble's song is THE music I attribute to my old house.  Any time it comes on the radio, I am immediately transported to the moment I stood on my hand-built wooden deck staring into the empty foundation where my old hopes and dreams for my life, my family disappeared.  I know that sounds melodramatic, but I can say with all honesty that I cried in that instant for the life that was, the life I knew I would never get back.  It was more than my house I lost that day.  And HOME is the song that encapsulates that emotion for me, even though it is really about something so so very different.

My be surrounded by a million people I still feel all alone.  Surrounded by people and yet all alone.  It's so hard to explain, but I am pretty certain that it's not entirely foreign.  We've all had moments where we feel no one can understand; for most of us, that feeling doesn't last three years.

The part of the song that makes me cry, every.single.time, is I just feel like I'm living someone else's life.  Sometimes I wish I was.

I know I've written about this song before; I've posted about it on Facebook.  But I mention it again because I just got tickets to see Buble in concert in August.  I don't think I've ever been so emotional about a concert.  It's suh a reminder how music, how words, connect us to the human experience.

I'm always curious about other people's songs.  What song resonates with you, what lyrics touch your soul?  Mine will always be "I'm coming home" even if I know I never can.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Triumph over Tragedy?

It's photo shoot day for the HGTV magazine feature about our rebuild (which I am really excited about!).  My story will be in the October issue (the very first!) of the magazine.

In the instructions to the photographer, the editor mentioned "triumph over tragedy" which got me thinking.  Is it really? Have I triumphed?

It has become evident to me in the past three years that we, as a collective people, do not handle true emotions (particularly of others) all that well.  Even in those first few days after the fire, when I would think grief would be the expected reaction, we were lauded when we could see the "good" in the situation.  That Thanksgiving, the news did a story on us talking about all the things we were thankful for.  I guess the message was that if even we could find something to give thanks for, anyone could.  But in reality, I didn't feel all that thankful at all.

There was something about that message of triumph over tragedy that struck me the same way this week.  Yes, we rebuilt.  Life went on.  What other choice did we have?  Maybe I'm too hard on myself and am splitting hairs over the meaning on the word "triumph."  I just don't feel triumphant.

We survived.  To me, that's enough.

(I know I didn't post yesterday.  We had the golf tournament all day and then threw a surprise party for my friend, and in the end, I chose sleep and my health over the blog.  But I'm still trying to post everyday until my birthday!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Light My Fire Golf Tournament

I almost forgot to blog today.  Starting a business has been exhausting.

Tomorrow we are sponsoring a hole in the Light My Fire golf tournament to support the Burn Out Fund and fire prevention programs.  I'm glad we have the opportunity to give back, though I have to admit I'll be glad when this week is over.

And that's the kind of post you get when I promise myself that I'm going to post everyday and yet am absolutely exhausted!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I have baby fever

I always wanted four kids, spaced four years apart.  My thoughts about the number of children I want has changed since becoming a parent, but I still think a four year spacing sounds pretty ideal.

Kellen is almost three.  And I've learned you don't just get pregnant the second you want it to be so (though certainly I know people for which this is true).  And then there is that whole nine month thing.

And oh yeah, there's that Lyme thing.  I feel good, better than I've felt in almost three years.  But I still am not 100%, and I know enough from those who've been there before me that being pregnant with Lyme isn't an easy road.  I would have to be on drugs my entire pregnancy.  And there are limits to what I can take to deal with Lyme symptoms that occur as a result of how a pregnancy impacts your immune system.  It's also hard for me to know I'm going to feel like crap after having been sick for so long and finally feeling like I'm on top of this illness.

I've considered our other options.  I always thought I would adopt, but that option has become less doable for me personally as I have assessed my own life.  I've also considered surrogacy (and if the local newspaper's comment section says anything about the public perception of surrogacy, this also has some major hurdles).  I'm having a hard time with either option, knowing that for me, neither is an ideal way to expand our family.

Kellen isn't an easy kid either.  He wasn't an easy baby, and it's hard for me to want to go back to the infant stage and sleep deprivation.

With that said, I know I want at least one more child.  I want our son to have a sibling.  And I want to experience holding a tiny baby again, a baby who is all mine to love.

It feels like everyone I know is having babies, either about ready to deliver or just finding out their pregnant.  I tried to get rid of my baby stuff, thinking that maybe we could have just one.  But I knew going through Kellen's stuff that we weren't done.

We still have a year to make some of these decisions and still have kids four years apart.  At least I've made one decision already and that's the choice to have at least one more child.  The only questions now are when... and how.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Yesterday someone on Twitter commented about the ridiculous comment they received about their divorce: "Life goes on."  He seemed frustrated by the other person's apparent lack of compassion, understandably.

After the fire, we heard our share of platitudes: "It's just stuff."  "At least no one was hurt."  "Everything happens for a reason."

Those things were hurtful then, and even thinking about them makes me seethe a bit.  After the Twitter comment I started thinking about why we say those things, even when they are disingenuous.

I'm pretty certain that these sayings having nothing to do with the people living through any number of bad situations.  Instead, those things are said to make ourselves (those not living in a nightmare) feel better.

If everything happens for a reason, then we protect ourselves from the randomness of trauma.  If all of our things are just material possessions with no meaning, perhaps if we do find ourselves on the other side of luck, we can imagine it wouldn't hurt us.  Telling others that life goes on is our way of removing ourselves from the emotional intensity of stress.

But this protection is fake.  You cannot protect yourself, no matter how many trite phrases you think of to reassure yourself in the midst of someone else's trauma.

All of us endure tragedy, and all of us need reassurance in those moments.  But what we need isn't false emotion.  We need human connection.  We need a hug.  We need a hand.  We need a crew of friends and strangers to sift through our ashes.  That is genuine compassion... and a hell of a lot more helpful than telling someone "Life goes on."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kellen's Lyme test

It is unknown when I contracted Lyme.  Given the way neurologic Lyme presents, though, it is very very likely I had Lyme while pregnant.  I either contracted it when I was pregnant, or I had a dormant infection.  So much is not well understood by the medical community about Lyme Disease, and transmission to a fetus is one of many contentious aspects of this disease.  According to the CDC, Lyme can be transmitted, but it is no big deal with proper antibiotic treatment while pregnant.  Isn't that helpful?!

I've met enough people in the Lyme community who have children who are believed to have contracted the disease in utero to make me have at least some concern about the possibility that Kellen has been exposed.  Knowing what I do about the damage this disease can cause, I believe the proactive route is the best one.

And that's how I found myself sitting in a pediatrician's office (and then the hospital lab) this afternoon waiting for my son's first ever blood draw (and possibly his first memory).  

It was horrible.  The fact that the pediatrician's office decided they couldn't do it was enough to set me off, and then we had to register for a simple blood draw.  And wait.  I got my blood drawn first because I needed a Vitamin D test anyway.  It was the easiest draw I've ever had in my whole life.  I thought the same would be true for Kellen.  Nope.

I restrained him in my lap while the nurse prepped his arm.  And then the screaming began and the flailing and the gagging from the crying.  All the while, the blood slowly trickled into the tube. Two tries... and not enough blood.  I felt like the worst mom ever.  I made him endure this, and we didn't even get enough to make it worthwhile.  And given Kellen's imagination and current fears, I can only imagine this will not bode well for future doctor visits, not to mention we still have to go back.  

This parenting stuff is hard, even when you think you're doing the absolute best thing for your child.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zoo Boise

We went to the zoo yesterday after soccer.  I got some incredible photos because I mistakenly brought my telephoto lens to soccer.  Sometimes accidents are good.

The new butterfly exhibit:

While we were looking for the giraffe, the male lion was making quite a scene, but by the time we got around, he settled down.

Kellen was popping up in the plastic holes while we looked at the Prairie dogs above!

I don't know how we got so lucky with the tigers, but they were gorgeous and decided to play in front of us. 

I call this photo "Yoga Giraffe." Alternately it could be "Limbo."

One of the highlights was the zebra putting his head down with the giraffe.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pee Wee Soccer

Kellen started soccer this morning with the Pee Wee Soccer group in Boise.  It was quite entertaining to see a group of two year olds running around, and Kellen wanted to kick the ball more than play the group games.  But it was a great activity, and we're looking forward to many more "practices" to come.

Kellen's first team meeting:

He obviously didn't quite understand the part of the song "we don't use our hands."  He might be better suited for handball.

We figured out our feet.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Backyard Birds

I never thought I'd be a bird person, especially with two very hyper labs to drive them away.  But after I was down in California watching all the birds my mom attracted to her house, I decided to dive into the expensive act of bird feeding in hopes of seeing some pretty birds.

I had to get a sturdy feeder.  I don't know if you've heard, but apparently we get high winds up here.  We found two good feeders at Zamzows, where we also got our bird food: Bird Lovers Deluxe and Song Bird Mix.  We also added a finch feeder with Nijer seed.  We get at least 30 birds at a time, and surprisingly, they don't seem to mind the dogs.

The sturdy metal feeder with happy little birdies!

 One of our goldfinches.

More happy birds

 A Lazuli Bunting- so pretty!

A house finch

Kellen and I also made some pinecone bird feeders this week, though our birds seem pretty ambivalent.  

Some of the birds nest in late June, so I'm really hoping one decides to nest in our yard, though our trees still aren't that mature, so it might be another few years.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Normal! Day

I admit this post is a total cop-out... but I haven't had time to post because I've had a normal, really full day.  Hell, I've had what feels like a pretty normal week.  It's been so long since I've been able to handle this kind of workload, though I do need to remember to take breaks so I don't overdo it.

I got up this morning for my weekly massage neck torture.  This has become a part of my treatment to deal with the dizziness.  My head is still sore, but it helps, so I go!

I hurriedly drove to our new office for my teleconference with the company handling our payroll.  Thankfully that was a quicker meeting than expected.

I then spent the day fighting with the internet connection, reviewing logos, talking with our insurance agent about liability insurance, and generally geeking out on business to-dos.

I came home after giving up on the internet connection (we are sharing an office and are waiting on our own wireless connection!).  I emailed with the photographer doing our HGTV photoshoot, changed into clothes for the gym, and picked up Kellen from school, where all the 2 year olds went through their daily routine of calling me a spider.  We went to the park at the elementary school nearby where Kellen splashed into a puddle on the slide, soaking his pants. Dan took Kellen home, and I went to the gym.

I came home, packed Kellen up, and we went to my dad's for the evening.  Kellen only threw two or three major fits, but for the most part he was good and played dragon cave and found a doggie on a string to pull around.

It might sound tedious to write about.  But really, surviving days like this makes me happy.  I might still get tired.  I certainly still have dizzy spells.  And I misspell words far more frequently than I care to admit (to myself), but it's a sign of improvement.  I feel normal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's not just a story; it's who I am

My name is Brooke. I have blue eyes. My house burned down in 2008 when I was eight months pregnant.  I like pink.

I am learning, for better or worse, the fire defines me, just as my hair color, body type, and shoe size.

I often have a goal of getting through an activity without mentioning the fire... or Lyme.  I usually fail.  I'm starting to wonder if it just wouldn't be easier to wear a badge or tell people within seconds of meeting them.

I don't talk about the fire to get sympathy or for entertainment.  I see my life and myself through the lens of a fire survivor, and without that context, I find it hard to be me.

I'm sure it's exhausting to hear the story over and over, though I'm starting to question whether being around those who are exhausted by it is the right environment for me.  Living this has been far more exhausting, I can promise that.

Because the fire is a defining part of me, it's been difficult to see the story within to craft the memoir.  It's been the reason I stepped back from writing; I needed to see the story as just that and not as a third leg.

Stories have endings, need a climax and a resolution.  But I don't have the ability to turn off that experience, disassociate myself from it and move on as though it never happened.  It's ingrained.  The fire, Lyme Disease - it's who I am.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Self-reflection and why I piss people off

I'm not really known as an insecure person.  And yet, a few things have happened recently that have made me step back and question myself.  Self-reflection isn't always a comfortable task, but I do think it's necessary (I just wish I wasn't constantly in self-reflection mode!).

I know that I can be somewhat abrasive and definitely critical (both of myself and of others and most certainly of misplaced apostrophes).  I used to think I was an optimist, but I've grown into a realist.  And I think it's hard to go back once you see the world through lenses that are often tinted with a bit of black soot.  I think I've started assuming that everyone sees the world through this same pragmatic prism.  I'm learning, the hard way of course, that I'm wrong.  Some people need reality softened, requiring a much more delicate touch than I seem to be capable of.

For the most part, I don't dislike this part of myself.  I am straightforward, and those who know me well know that they will always get the truth from me, whether it's flattering or not.  I see little value in the art of bullshitting, believing that I would rather have a few genuine friends than be liked by everyone only because I am capable of blowing smoke up their asses.  This isn't to say I feel like I don't have many friends, just that I seem to piss them off in regular intervals.  I hope that most realize I am well-intentioned.  But we all know where good intentions take us (though I often feel I'm living among the seventh circle anyway, so maybe that's how I got here).

This last week has made me feel very insecure about the person that I usually feel very confident in.  Do I really need to speak that truthfully?  Am I compromising a bit of myself to fit into a societal convention that I feel is not authentic?  And what is the cost of that compromise?  Right now, it's making me uncomfortable in all social situations, to the point that I appear socially awkward.  And that seems to be alienating the friends who do love me for being Blunt Brooke.

I think we are all capable of minor adjustments as we accrue experiences in this life.  But at our core, it seems that major change is almost impossible (except maybe for the person who experiences a major brain trauma and has a completely different personality).  At the very least, I own who I am.  Even if that makes everyone else uncomfortable.

Monday, June 6, 2011

PTSD nightmares resurface

I was going to write a happy post today, about my love of pink and how we've brought that into our new house.

But today isn't that kind of day.  Early this morning, in what was supposed to be a period of restful REM sleep, I found myself in an alternate world of grief.  In my dream we rebuilt our home on a hillside, next to the ocean.  It was still our house even though it was in another location.  I was away from the house (again) and returned to find it leveled.  It was my worst nightmare.  In our real fire, we got our laptops and saved many of our photos.  But this time, they were gone.  The garage was untouched, but the house was gone.  The grief I felt in my dream was the same that I felt standing over my home three years ago.  It was heartbreaking, even if it wasn't real.

I haven't had a PTSD fire nightmare in what I think is at least a year.  I was talking to someone who knows a lot about PTSD recently, and even proudly declared my nightmares gone.  To have them return was, at the very least, jarring and unsettling.

This morning I was trying to understand what might have triggered the dream.  Was it the fire in the foothills Saturday?  Was it reading about the evacuations in Arizona?  Was it my fear last night about falling asleep with the dryer still running?

In the nightmare, I remember the decision not to rebuild anywhere wildfires occurred, preferring to move to a greener, wetter location.  This morning, I questioned whether I could live here with the threat of wildfires a constant presence every summer.  I'm not sure I know the answer to that.  And I'm not sure whether my dreams help or hinder in figuring that out.  Or in overcoming PTSD.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

29 in 29

In 29 days, I turn 29.

One of my goals for the next year is to be more regular in posting to my blog, in addition to getting the nonprofit fully operational. We are currently working on 501(3)(c) status. And I'm looking at grants to apply for.  Speaking of, if anyone has experience with grant writing, I'd love some tips!  Because the blog is one of my goals, I wanted to start off with trying to post everyday for (almost) a month.  It's my 29 in 29 challenge.

I'm also ready to announce more publicly that our family will be featured in the first issue of HGTV's magazine, launching this fall.  We are in story writing mode now, and we will be doing a photo shoot later this month.  I'll do a full post on it then!

It's hard to believe I'm almost 29.  Might as well embrace it!