Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Can't Take Away the Land

Listen to this while you read:

The Gold Hill Inn was the first place that Alan took me when we started dating. We've been back each of the last 23 years to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and just good times. In the days after our house was destroyed, we listened anxiously to the news to find out whether the Gold Hill Inn had survived. We heard it was gone, it was there, that they had bulldozed a big area around it to save it. We were so relieved to find that it had survived. A part of our history remained after the fire.

It's the holiday season, and I'm going to try to write each day about giving thanks. As Andi (my favorite blogger) says, the secret of life is gratitude. Tonight, I'm grateful that I will celebrate my birthday at the Gold Hill Inn, just as I normally would. I also get to hear Moors and McCumber, who created the song You Can't Take Away the Land. When I first heard this song tonight, I cried. The second, third, and fourth times I listened to it, I smiled. I am so lucky. The Fire couldn't take away my land. It couldn't take away the Gold Hill Inn. It couldn't take my history. It can't take my future.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hiding from Normal

I have blog envy.

I've been off Facebook for most of the last 2 months. A few days ago I went back. A friend had linked to a blog written by another woman who lost her home in the fire. Damn, I wish I'd thought of that name (I'll never again listen to that Talking Heads song without thinking of the fire). I wish I'd taken the time to make my blog look better. I wish I could write the way she does. I wish I had written:
  • "There are people all around me, at all times." None of us have gotten used to people walking by our windows, looking in at us. Erin wonders why a car is stopping outside our house at night. Alan can't remember that blinds need to be closed. I forget that clothes are required in town.
I took a different approach than Andi. I couldn't take care of people, but it was also too exhausting to tell the truth. So I went into hiding. I didn't answer email. I didn't return voicemail. I didn't write on this blog. If I talked to someone they might see under the facade of strength and optimism I had created. They might say something that would crack the mask of normal. So, it was just easier to hide.

What have I learned that Andi hasn't already written? I've learned that I hate the word, the concept, of "victim". I've stayed away from the free store where people donated things to "fire victims". On the surface I said it was because people who had no insurance and no support system needed those much more than I did. Underneath, it was because I didn't want that damn label of "victim".

I've learned that everyone has tragedy in their lives. Sometimes it's larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes more present, sometimes hidden. I could say I've learned that it's all about how we handle it. But that's just Mary Poppins bullshit. What I have learned is that, for me, it's about living it. Rather than hiding the anger, I've started to live it. Yes, I'm lucky. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for. Yes, it could have been (and was for some) so much worse. But, I'm still pissed. I'm angry at God, angry at myself for being angry, just angry.

And I've learned, that once I let the anger be, it starts to go. Yes, I already knew that. I took the psychology classes. I knew the stages of grief. I read the self-help books. I knew about expressing versus repressing emotions. It doesn't matter what I knew. Now I know.

So, I'm starting to come out of hiding. I went back to work. That helped. I traveled to California 3 times. Each time I got one good night's sleep. That was one more than I was getting at home. Now, I'm up to 3 good nights a week. That helps. I met a friend for drinks last week. I'm going to an event tonight. I'm writing on the blog today.

I may be back in hiding by tomorrow or next week. No guarantees. No normal, at least not yet.

(Thanks, Andi, for helping me to come out of hiding with your words.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sifting through the ashes

It's amazing how one's perspective changes.

A week ago on Friday, Alan went to the house and started sifting through the ashes. He called to say he'd found his class ring intact and his wedding ring, very damaged, but with enough left for someone to replicate the design. He hadn't told me that he wasn't wearing his ring when we evacuated, and I hadn't noticed. He told Erin, "Your mother doesn't need to know this right now." So true. Had I heard this in the first days after the fire, I'd have been a basket case. But 11 days later, I took the news somewhat in stride.

Since then, we've done a lot more sifting, but have found very little. A few remnants of dishes and pottery. Some coins. Some costume jewelry. We spent hours sifting near where Alan found his ring, looking for the remains of the gold and diamond necklace he gave me on my 40th birthday. No luck.

Today the debris removal will start. In a few days all that will be left is a few foundation walls. We'll leave those until we start the new foundation, so that the soil doesn't cave in. I find it hard to give the go ahead for the debris removal. It's like saying goodbye again and finally to what was.

Perhaps by next week my perspective will have changed to looking forward to what will be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


One of the side benefits of the fire has been that Alan and I have grown closer again. We've been spending most of our time together and are rediscovering how good we are as a team, tackling problems, making decisions, etc. Sometimes, though, we have different approaches to moving on.

Alan is in major shopping mode. Online, he's buying printers and monitors and vacuum cleaners. Home Depot is once again one of his major hangouts. His face lit with delight when he saw that McGuckin's is having a tent sale this weekend.

I'm not much of a shopper, even in the best of times. We needed a watering can for a plant that a new neighbor gave us, so I had to go shopping. Target didn't have any--watering cans are "out of season". I didn't like what Home Depot had. McGuckin's had exactly the can we had before, except they only had blue or gray. I wanted an exact replacement for the green watering can I had. No, that's not quite right. I wanted the watering can I had.

It's just a cheap plastic watering can. But I'm not finished grieving.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back "home"

The days since my last update have been a roller coaster of emotions. I haven't wanted to post at the bottom or top of the ride because neither is realistic, but haven't been at a midpoint long enough to do so. Here's a quick update while sitting at the laundromat (which has wifi!).

We've moved into a very nice rental house in north Boulder, right next to open space. Rental furniture was delivered on Friday. The furniture sucks but the company said we can swap it out for others when we have time. We moved in over the weekend and have been doing a lot of shopping for basics. No internet/phone/TV yet--hopefully on Wednesday.

Yesterday we were able to go to our property for the first time. I expected to be devastated when we saw the site. Strangely, it was much less emotional than I expected. Perhaps this was because the pictures of the house burning and of the resulting rubble had prepared us. Perhaps it was because there is so little that is recognizable. It's no longer our house, just a pile of twisted metal, broken stone and ash. The fantastic thing for us is that many of our neighbors' houses survived. Not only does this give us a community to go back to, but it also means that our views are largely intact.

Our biggest problem is just sheer exhaustion. I've often said that sleep is a terrorist weapon. The first 4 nights I slept a total of 9 hours. Since then, it's been about 4 hours a night. Erin is taking a CU Calc 3 class. When I try to help her on dot products, cross products, determinants, etc, I find that I can't even remember how to multiply two polynomials. Alan and I say we have 1 decent brain between the two of us. He catches me when I'm about to do something stupid and vice versa.

Our next big challenge is to do the contents inventory. Think of a closet, cabinet, drawer in your house. Now, from memory describe each item in detail, the brand, where you bought it and when. Now, multiply that times your whole house. After 30+ years of adult living, it's a daunting task.

Every day is completely full of activity, so I'm still unable to respond to individual emails and voicemails. I hope you can understand and will forgive me for my lack of responsiveness. Other than insurance people, rental agents, landlords, etc, about the only people I've talked to since the first couple of days are my sister and my parents. I haven't even talked to my 2 brothers, although I need to soon. I hope to post more frequently once we have internet. Thanks again for all your support.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our status and how to help

I apologize for not being able to respond individually to all of you who have called and emailed. Please know that each of you holds a special place in my heart. I am so grateful for your love, support and concern. I tried posting updates on Facebook, but the character limitation is just too restrictive. You know how verbose I can be! So, I thought I'd try using a blog for updates.

As many of you know, we first learned our house was gone by seeing it on a Denver TV station. It was also the front page picture in the Boulder newspaper on Tuesday. For those of you outside Boulder, if you've seen a picture of a slurry bomber and a house on fire, it was probably our house. We've heard from others that the national news media have been showing it. Not exactly the claim to fame I would have wanted.

On Monday night we stayed with our dear friends, Connie, Gary and Kyle. We then moved to the Residence Inn in Boulder. Almost all of yesterday (Wednesday) was spent looking for a rental house. It was a bizarre experience, racing around town to look at places as agents told us the rental possibilities were disappearing. We ran into some of our neighbors looking at the same houses. One family was not at home when the fire happened and lost almost all of the photos of their two little girls. Despite the race to find a place, we tried to stay focused that this wasn't a competition and everyone would find something that worked.

Erin was able to join us after school, and we found a place that she felt good about. It's in Dakota Ridge, facing the open space. Hopefully the insurance company will accept it and we'll be able to move in soon. Today (Thursday) will be spent meeting with our insurance person and meeting with a possible contractor about rebuilding. We haven't decided yet if we will rebuild, but we've been told to get started on the process.

Last night we attended a community meeting for those affected by the fire. There were hundreds of people in attendance. Joe Pelle, the sheriff, gave an excellent update on what was happening. Some of the evacuated families will be able to return to their homes today. However, Sunshine Canyon and a couple of others are still closed for the foreseeable future. Of the 20 mile perimeter of the fire, only 2 miles are under control. The sheriff also warned that the people who return will need to be prepared to leave again on short notice. We had rain on Wednesday, but the weather for today is supposed to be dry and windy which could send the fire in new directions.

The most important part of the evening was reconnecting with our neighbors. Sunshine Canyon is like a small town in the way that people know and support each other. Last night there were tears and hugs, but also a bit of joy and laughter. Some are still dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing if their house survived. One family received a picture taken just a couple of hours before showing their house still standing. Those whose houses are still there are struggling with the guilt that survivors feel. Many of us who know our houses are gone looked aged and worn. I'm not looking in the mirror any time soon.

Many, many people have asked how they can help. Truthfully at this point, there isn't much we need at the basic level of food and shelter. For now, our insurance company is taking care of us. If you want to do something, I would recommend either contributing to those less fortunate than us who didn't have insurance or to the Sunshine Fire Department. For general donations, you can call 211 in the Boulder area (866-760-6489 outside Boulder) or go to (click on focus area Fourmile Canyon Fire). I'm not sure how to donate directly to the Sunshine Fire Department, but there may be something on their website. Another option would be to contribute to the Pakistan aid efforts. I know it's trite, but we really do still have so much more than many people, so we're trying to stay focused on that perspective, while also knowing that we have to go through the grieving process.

While we're ok for now, I've been thinking of things that would comfort each of us as we go forward. Many of these are things that require time more than money, things that need to be created, researched, hunted down. Here are some examples:

- Erin had an aloe vera plant in a beautiful blue pot in her bathroom. While I could go buy another one, it's something I probably won't have time to do for awhile.

- All 3 of us had black belts from Tae Kwon Do. Erin and I saved ours, but I didn't know where Alan's was and so it was lost. I don't know how much it really means to him, but it might be nice if someone could contact Tran's and see if it's possible for us to replace it if he wants to.

- I lost all my recipes. While I can go buy new books, there are some favorite recipes that were given to me by some of you. Connie, I'm thinking veggie chili and Becky's salad, for instance. Getting copies of those recipes would be comforting for me.

We obviously don't need hundreds of aloe vera plants, so there needs to be some coordination. The entrepreneur in me instantly thinks "there should be an app for that!" Some kind of wish list app where people who have suffered some loss could post the little things that would help them once they are past Maslow's first level of food and shelter. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be creating that app anytime soon, but maybe there's something that exists that could be used.

The other thing we'll need in the future is information. For example, Vic, I'd love to talk to you about how to deal with the insurance company since I know you have recent experience. Another thing might be how to help the college admissions people understand what Erin is going through and how this might affect her app. She has to take the ACT on Saturday--she's been wonderfully strong and resilient through all of this, but staying focused for 4 hours to take a test might push that limit.

Finally, there's also the long term support. I know I've often wanted to help someone immediately but then I get back into life and forget that the person is still grieving weeks, months, years later. So, maybe just put on your calendar or into reQall (sorry I still have to do the plug) a reminder to contact Alan, Erin or myself in 3 weeks or 2 months or whenever.

One last thing. Last night after the rain there was a gorgeous full rainbow to the east of Boulder. We took it as a sign of hope.