housefire

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Too quiet (delayed post from June 2014)

Posted by on 15 Feb 2016 | Tagged as: Family Matters, Gardens and Life, house building, housefire, Uncategorized

I have been “silent” for many months, working very hard at school and just trying to keep ahead of the work. I love my students, and spend most of my energy on them during the school year. It’s hard to keep that “work-life” balance sometimes. But as things calm down and become more predictable I find small moments when I have both time and energy again.

Here is a musing from quite a while back:

When the house is clean
And the kitchen is tidied
The outside beckons

Too late the weeding
the mowing
the tending
the sowing

Too late the gentle breeze
before the storm

The children are gone
from my arms
from my time

We built and built again
a home

And alone
I work quietly
alone

Wait for a reason
To put joy
on the walls
in the halls
for the

[originally written 23 June 2014, mid-afternoon]

I stopped writing the poem at that point — what did I have in mind? We had only moved “home” about three weeks earlier. I was again temporarily jobless and simultaneously trying to find the “must have” items from the boxes that had come from the apartment, the “cleaners” and the storage locker; while sorting out the items that I wished I could keep but were no longer worth keeping even for sentimental value. I was trying to find and reestablish the garden again after more than a year “away” — so much doesn’t get done when you don’t live on site! I was trying to make some decorating decisions which I quickly gave up — no money even if I had the heart. Tom was working full-time, Grant was working full-time, Matthew lived elsewhere. I was ALL ALONE. No companions of any kind except my grief and longing.

I still deal with the feelings of loss, I still am absolutely, devastatedly, achingly lonely when I am at home with no one around, no one to care for. I have a precious few hours with Tom each week, usually on the weekends; fewer with Grant who very much wants to earn enough and save up enough to leave home. The rest of the time, if I am home, I am alone.

And this loss — the loss of security and home, the loss of heritage in the artifacts that perished outright or turned out too badly damaged to keep — this loss is relatively small compared to the losses we witness daily around the world.

It’s part of the human condition, it hurts, and it does not abate. Yes, there is still joy, and yes, I look forward to each new day and the seasons that are changing. But like many types of grief, this one is now an enduring, permanent feature of my life. I treasure moments with the people I love more now, I think, than I used to — always with a sense of longing as I remember that these moments do not last.

As I finish this post on February 15, 2016, the little waq’waq’ is singing by the fish pond. A casserole is in the oven, Tom’s pumpkin pie is cooling on the counter, his bread in other oven perfuming the air. Grant will be home in a few hours and will sit with us and watch a little TV before I give in to my sleep schedule and leave the two “menfolk” to hang out for a little while longer. Life IS good. There is much to look forward to.

Hanging on to each precious moment with the people I love.

Memories

Posted by on 14 Sep 2014 | Tagged as: Family Matters, Gardens and Life, good things, hope, house building, housefire, loss, Uncategorized

A year and a half ago this evening, I was planning the pizza party for the class that had “most improved” in behavior and academics; and deciding to have cookies and juice for the other classes, who had been working very hard as well.

Tomorrow will be the 18 month anniversary of the last day of that grading period, the day that I entered in all the data I had and started making comments in the evening so parents would know how their kids were doing in school. That was a Friday. I was so looking forward to the weekend, to the following two weeks (right before spring break). The weather was lovely and we were able to take Lucky out nearly every evening for a walk. I had plans for the garden, for the house, for figuring out where I was going after the break (when my long-term sub position would end).

I liked my home, my cluttered corner where I planned lessons, read books and watched TV. I loved my purple and yellow and green bedroom with the basketry light fixture over the four-poster bed and the walls of books…

I loved the times we spent cooking in the cramped kitchen, eating at the linoleum-topped table, playing games.

I walked the gardens daily. I knew the plants, the animals, the sunrises and sunsets. Predictable, but ever-changing.

On Thursday, it will be a year and a half since all of that was taken from us, the bright Monday afternoon that home was lost and we learned the true meaning of neighborliness and friendship. A year and a half since we ended up in a hotel without a clean change of clothes, or toothpaste or even a hairbrush. A year and a half … that feels sometimes like yesterday and sometimes like a completely different world.

We have been back on the land, in a new house, since the first of June.

I still sometimes feel out of place, not sure where I am.

I don’t yet walk the gardens daily, too many things perished while we were gone.

I don’t yet have a handle on everything that is lost, because there are still boxes to go through. Every box holds memories…

Every memory I have to let go because the papers or fabrics are too damaged (and toxic) to keep hurts. It goes slowly.

And yet, a year and a half of new memories are already built. The picture of Grant and his girlfriend’s senior prom is clipped to my lampshade next to my new corner where I plan lessons, read books and watch TV, and think about maybe tidying up someday…

Once again, Tom cooks in the kitchen, this time a more spacious and workable space, with a separate area for the table where we eat and play games.

This autumn we will plant bulbs, tubers and corms in the back yard, reclaiming the ground that was damaged by construction for a pleasant view that doesn’t need mowing.

This winter, we will sit in front of the fireplace when it rains (or snows), something brand new for us.

And in another nine months, we will have been back almost as long as we were away, and I hope we will finally feel home again.

For now, the memories still invade at inopportune moments, and I have to catch myself and figure on which side of the memory I stand…

This loss hasn’t been the hardest we have faced, but it has been very difficult. Recovering from something like this … never easy. But recover we do, and every day a little more falls into place. Every day, the new memories are stronger and the painful memories are easier to bear.

Memories… Dreams and Wishes (Pollyanna speaks)

Posted by on 18 Mar 2014 | Tagged as: hope, house building, housefire, loss, Uncategorized

One year ago today I went to teach on a beautiful, sunny day. I left early, telling Lucky I would be home and we would go for a walk in the evening if it was nice. Tom was still asleep. So was Grant.

It was a lovely, sunny, warm day.

A few hours later, Lucky was gone. So were the birds. The house was uninhabitable. Family heirlooms destroyed and damaged. The accumulations of four lives smudged out. Grant was covered in soot and being brave, having come home to discover the house in flames…

Today was gray and cool. I left the apartment early to go work at the school, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I dropped Grant off at the college for his yoga class. I didn’t teach today because of conference scheduling, so I went to a dentist appointment before I met with parents, and spent the rest of the work day either organizing files (much needed) or in meetings.

Today, instead of my parents meeting me at the door of my classroom when the children left for the day, I called and went to visit after I left school. Just a quiet afternoon, looking at magazines of house things and dreaming about how the new house will function. Feeling so very very tired…

I want my home back. My yard, my gardens, my books, my child’s sense of security. Some things will eventually recover. Other things are going to develop a “new normal.” And some things just will never feel right again.

But in the grand scheme of things, the loss of a house, the loss of “things” is so small. In the grand scheme of things, I have my best friend to share my life with, my children, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students and a world of possibilities that still extend for years in every direction. In the grand scheme of things, I have hope.

My wish is that everyone could have hope for a brighter future. It’s why I teach. And it’s why I plant trees as well as vegetables.

Hope.

It makes the world go ’round.

Taking shape: House construction!

Posted by on 10 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, good things, house building, housefire, Uncategorized

I haven’t made it home in a couple of days. Hoping there is progress beyond the verbal agreements and discussions we had with Jon-the-Plumber and Oivind-the-Overseer (which I will call him just for alliterative purposes, he is a nice man), and Jeremiah… and and and. Here are decisions we have made: recycled glass for the “fill” …

Making a lot of decisions about our kitchen. For example, the countertops for the perimeter will likely be Formica 180fx “Golden Mascarello” and the cabinets will be Waypoint 410 style in natural maple.

All doors and molding will be “Newport Cherry” color — still trying to find a reliable example of it online.

Still trying to finalize wall/ceiling color and floor colors, leaning toward either a light cream or dove gray for the paint, and a light brown/amber for the floors.

Also, working on the master bath: curbless shower needs to know how it will be “dressed:” tile, fiberglass skin, other? Need to decide on how the drain will work, how to get the floor to tilt toward the drain (harder to do with a concrete slab), and the best way to transition from shower space to the rest of the bathroom and then into the master bedroom. I am considering a small transition strip to keep water from the designated “wet” area of tub and shower segregated from the rest of the space. It will be interesting.

Also-also: need to pin down fixtures for the kitchen and bath rooms. Lighting (appointment with Tim at Olympia Lighting on Weds to discuss lighting plan). And… I am sure there are so many things I am not remembering this late in the day.

A bonus, today I bought 19 books. 18 at state surplus (a set of 7 identical at reading level of grade 4 – 5), and one at the hardware store (on tiling, see above discussion of shower decisions).

So, I haven’t made it home in a couple of days, but home is rarely far from my thoughts. I am focusing as much as I can on the design and functional decisions so I can make the fewest number of change orders once work actually starts. After going over the design for the kitchen island yesterday, now I am thinking about one small change I would make… easily altered. Window placements I am not mucking with. Doors, ditto. Bathroom base layouts, still looking good to me.

In the wake of the fire, people kept talking about how great it was that I would get my “dream home.” It won’t be that, but I am now to the point where I believe our new home will be very functional, comfortable, and even pretty. I am worried still about some of the details coming together, but overall I believe we will be just fine.

My plants… I’ll deal with those another time.

Lessons Learned

Posted by on 03 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: housefire, Uncategorized

Many people have written about things to do after a fire and before.

Here are three things I wish I had done before the fire that would have made things a LOT easier in the first couple of months afterward:

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The poem I wrote (caution: dark)

Posted by on 02 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: Family Matters, Gardens and Life, housefire, loss, passages, poetry, Uncategorized

Shortly after the house fire, I wrote a poem.

I think it’s time to share it.

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Stepping Forward, Stepping Back: The dance of change

Posted by on 11 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, hope, house building, housefire, Learning Styles, musings, teaching, Uncategorized

In the wake of the fire, Tom and I are still working on finding equilibrium. The size of the apartment, the distance from my gardens, the lack of comfortable space and privacy, the noises of the city — and our neighbors — all conspire against the comfortable routines and patterns we used to have. He continues to focus on his work though without the long drive or the need to get up early to help Grant go to zero hour he has a lot more time on his hands. I focus on trying to make sense of the house plans and what we need to look at and learn about the systems and design decisions, and wish I had teaching to help me focus my energies on things other than our situation. We no longer need to think about or worry much about what Grant is up to — he will be a senior in high school and a college freshman this coming year, so he makes most of his own scheduling and activity decisions. We no longer have much to do in the yard, the garden; I have no real space to “do art”… and with our free time we aren’t yet settled in to expectations. And there are moments of extreme activity around house decisions, cleaning up items we salvaged and maintaining the apartment, followed by times when we are adrift.

It seems that some (most?) days we are caught up in a tango — step this way slowly, that way quickly, spin, reverse, proceed. Not necessarily in that order. We are stumbling along, trying to match our moves to the wild and varied rhythms of the band. It’s a metaphor that rings true, particularly since I never mastered the tango, and as far as I know Tom hasn’t ever learned the basic steps. Our lives right now are pretty clumsy. Our communication is rudimentary, and so we lack coordination of effort and focus. When dancing, once the basic pattern is mastered, there are logical sequences of steps and moves that follow; all in time to the music. In life, it is rarely that smooth; right now it is as disjointed as dancing the tango to a jitterbug tune.

One of the ideas that was prevalent in the teaching program was that learning is hard work. That what you thought you knew is challenged with each new fact, process or idea. The “newness” of the learning not only makes the current tasks difficult, it muddles the previously mastered tasks and renders any fluency, any panache, impossible. The learner stumbles, and sometimes fails outright.

Although I was once an admin assistant (and a pretty good one), all my training went by the wayside as an onslaught of emotions, immediate needs and demands from many quarters descended. Paperwork was misplaced or outright lost. Deadlines were missed. Opportunities overlooked. The many people we were supposed to talk to and work with, the coordination of who to talk to (and when) and who else needs the same information… It was too much, too fast, too overwhelming.

Stumbling. It all gets sorted out eventually, I suppose, but we are definitely not there yet.

Today, a moment of rest between sets. The band is silent, at least for the time being. The furniture is in the apartment and set up. Once the recycling truck takes the bins away, I can move some of the packing materials out of the office. I will put the cardboard in my van and take it to the house today, store it in the carport and use it in a little bit to make barriers around plants and along paths. I will have coffee with mother, lunch with a friend, a visit with another friend…

Tom will go to work, come home in the evening. We will have supper, watch some television. He will play some video games or work on his computer, and I will play my online game and interrupt him periodically with comments or thoughts that pop into my head.

In the background, we will be thinking about the next steps. Do we push for the contractor to move ahead, call the bank about the appraiser’s decision, work on making lists of items that we need to start looking for on sale so we can be ready with everything once the house is done?

What is happening with the music? Was that one beat, or two? Which direction should we move to keep from crashing into other dancers on the floor? Oops, sorry, that was your foot, wasn’t it?

What’s left, and moving ahead

Posted by on 08 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, hope, housefire, Uncategorized

The house is gone, the land is bare, but enough remains that we can see where we have been. And there is “just enough” of a hint of where we may eventually end up. Here are a few pics, and apologies to my friends who were looking for these two days ago — my energy levels and time haven’t exactly been coinciding recently.

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Thirteen years…

Posted by on 20 Jun 2013 | Tagged as: environment, Family Matters, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, Green Living, hope, housefire, parenting, social justice, Uncategorized

Almost fourteen years ago now, the house was placed in the yard (September 1999). I planted trees in front and on the sides the following Spring. Flower beds in front the year after that, if I remember correctly. And gradually the yard and the home took shape. A few years into the process, I started recording the changes here, in the A Garden View page under the About tab.

Now, the house is being removed. Where there was a home, there is now only memory.

Memory, and hope. Monday morning, bright and sunny, the house still stood, but not for long.

Just before it all started...

Just before it all started…

And in the middle of the day… the roof gone, the interior exposed, the bulk of our lives in tatters.

the power box remains standing, the view through what was our bedroom wall

the power box remains standing, the view through what was our bedroom wall

And toward the end, the excavator in what was Matthew’s room. The remains of our lives together were piled high in dump trucks.

even the floors were torn out, and the foundations

even the floors were torn out, and the foundations

In a few weeks, with luck, we will have begun the process of rebuilding for real. We will have approval from the county, and from the bank, for a home that has more than enough space. We will have space to gather, to linger, to grow old.

the house elevations, as planned

the house elevations, as planned

I have a garden still, and that will have to do for now. Do the children understand how important it is that we have space for them? Do they understand how hard it has been, to work for so long, only to start again?

They are about to begin their own lives, and in the beginning when everything is incremental and one is responsible only for oneself, it feels much simpler. The idea that beginning now means we will be well past middle age when all this is resolved seems horrible to them.

It’s not easy, but it’s possible. We have lived through difficult times, and even now, thinking about a new thirty year mortgage it’s daunting. But we have made it this far.

The anchor of “home” will give us what we need to go a little farther.

my garden, and my darling Tom -- all that I need to be happy

my garden, and my darling Tom — all that I need to be happy

What I am “up” to

Posted by on 12 Jun 2013 | Tagged as: Family Matters, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, housefire, Uncategorized

Here is the post I made on facebook this morning:

Today is my first official day of “vacation” — the last almost three months have been hard; I didn’t work so many days that I would have (and might have), but they weren’t restful. It wasn’t even close to a “vacation” for me. It was hard work. I expect to still have many days like those… it’s not over and I am not where I want to be, but I am getting there. And the reduced stress over whether I could/should/must/can work will help. Now I can focus on my kids and the house. Now I can work in my garden and know that I don’t have to think about being able to walk the next day. Now I can make progress, and help my family make progress. Plan for today: laundry, sort through one box or item; repack a few textiles I managed to clean so I can put them in storage; pick up Matthew from the airport; spend some time with Grant. Yes, vacation will be good to have.

Almost three months to the day (this coming Monday), our old house will be demolished. It will make a huge hole in the landscape, not unlike the hole the fire left in our hearts.

And then, we will start rebuilding.

We have chosen a house plan, it will work “well enough” for our purposes, though I am sure there are other plans out there that would make more sense design-wise and energy-wise and cost-wise. But I didn’t have the luxury of taking my time and thinking clearly about things like this. The most thinking along these lines had been how to remodel our existing home… but the plan I have chosen is one that I am certain will allow me to “age in place” and while it doesn’t have the separate “game room” I wanted, or the privacy of a separate space for the other bedrooms (which is nice for visitors), it does have several things I felt important.

  • accessibility
  • radiant floors – had to fight a little bit for that, but it will be worth it in the middle of winter
  • an office for Tom, an extra room for me that I will let Grant have while he is at home I think
  • a big kitchen, planned for some expansion later with space for a wall oven and plumbed for a sink in a kitchen island later on
  • plenty of storage – will buy customizable wardrobes to put along the walls in the non-master bedrooms/offices, and there will be a garage, too; and the kitchen is so big… we will get some pull-out pantry units that are more space efficient than a walk-in and easier to use if mobility impairments happen
  • skylights – solar tube types in several locations, and two real skylights in the main living space that will open for venting heat in the summer; and a ceiling fan…
  • the living room looks out on the front yard and the lovely chestnut tree… and the kitchen looks out over the back yard and my cedar grove and the meadow
  • I can paint the walls — solid colors, patterns, murals… and there will be lots of light in the house from the windows, but not so much that we can’t still keep the house cool in the summer

There are more advantages, the single-car garage that we are hoping to be able to fit in will allow for some larger projects (like refinishing the damaged heirlooms with scorched wood) and then be a space for Grant and his friends to hang out. We’ll put an electric heater in there, and get some used comfy furniture so they can gather and be loud and have fun away from the main living space.

It will be MUCH closer to ground level, so I won’t even need to create an official “ramp” to the front porch. That will make it easier to get in and out when I am using assistive devices; and maybe some of my friends who haven’t been able to get inside will come visit!

It will look externally more like the houses in the neighborhood, which will, I think help the neighbors feel better about our place. I loved my yellow walls and deep burgundy trim, but in a world of brown, green and gray it was a little different… Still since we don’t have an HOA I might end up putting in some bright caribbean-inspired garden pieces!

And as the house takes shape and I get back into the garden and pull it into shape too (three months of inattention has resulted in huge swaths of waist-high grasses and weeds as tall as Tom), I should be able to start thinking about other things. Applying for jobs. Taking a couple of workshops (really excited about those, actually — the 2 Sisters have been recommended to me for years). Going through the storage locker to find little things I can use. Painting silk scarves (Mother and I still have to order paints, but I have scarves clean and ready to go!). Visiting with friends. Making jams/jellies/pies/cookies/juice/sorbet…

Many things to look forward to. Many things to arrange and do and be present for.

Today beckons. Matthew’s flight is near Philadelphia, Grant will be done with school in a couple hours, and I have plans for progress in the apartment. It’s going to be a good summer.

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