Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Redefining Normal

You want a little peek in to my life? Are you sure? It's ugly in here.

So far this week:

  • We lost the cable boxes and modem. Yep. The packing system went to hell in a handbasket. Actually, it probably went to hell in a plastic tote. The cable guy showed up 3 hours late to hook up our precious cable/phone/internet, and we had no equipment. It wasn't my fault, really. I packed it. It just never got loaded on the truck. So after ransacking every gray plastic tote in the house at least 3 times, we found the cable boxes at the other house, after the cable guy had left. Fail. Fortunately, the hubby managed to hook it up just fine and by midnight we were once again connected to the big, wide, world outside of our home again. 
  • My hotspot device failed. The hotspot was the key piece of equipment that guaranteed that I could work through this whole moving adventure. Work=paycheck. The stupid thing refused to charge while plugged into my laptop, or anywhere else for that matter while I was using it, so every hour or less it just tossed me off the internet. Blast technology! I wanted to blast that thing through the window.
  • The youngest kiddos got off of the new school bus crying because the bus driver cussed at them. The big guy walked them to the bus this morning and met the bus driver. He was super nice to the big guy. 
  • The landlady's attorney called and informed us that we could not have a third party present at the final walk through of the rental property. By third party, I mean the party that originally did the walk through of the property. I have never actually met the landlady. I have been fully cooperative with this person up to this point, but you know what? No. I will not give on this one. I want a third party (one who has seen the property prior to our move in) to do the walk through with us. She can pull up her big girl pants or I can pull down mine. My cooperation must still be packed. Probably in a gray plastic tote. 
  • The fire restoration company that attempted to clean our fabric items informed us that their fabric care expert did not find any evidence of lingering smoke, shrinkage, or general fabric damage. Really? Fabric care expert? Are they listed in the Yellow Pages? Where does one locate a fabric care expert? The house burned hot enough for the glue to melt in the plywood roof and the paneling upstairs to melt and drip off the wall, but our nylon/lycra/spandex/perma-press/polyester infused fabrics fared just fine? Um...I don't think so. Sure, the big guy always wore those 5XLT shirts like shrink wrap. My peachskin shirt always felt like a scratchy wool sweater. No. I don't think so. That tie-dye shirt? Yeah, that was solid blue before the fire. I'm unpacking my boxing gloves, people. We're fixin' to fight. 
What else? Hmmm...
  •  The hot water tank was set to 'vacation'. That made for a pleasant first shower. 
  • Now the hot water tank is set to 'scald your hiney'. Need to adjust that. While I still have skin on my hiney. 
  • I have yet to locate my work notebook. Work notebook=time sheet. Time sheet=paycheck. Oh, curse you gray totes!
  • We haven't found all of the phones yet. 
  • There is still a lockbox hanging on our doorknob. It eats knuckles. Hopefully the leasing company will be out soon to remove it.     
I could go on and on. And you know what? It's only TUESDAY. 

I was feeling very low today and wondering to myself when our lives would get back to normal, and then it came over me, like a foul stench- this is our new normal. 

This is it. This is our life. This IS our normal. It's been 5 months and we still don't live 'at home'. We have a lot of new stuff, but it still doesn't feel like our stuff. And to be fair, much of it is not our stuff. Not our beds. Not our dishes. Not our towels. (I will NEVER buy white towels! I don't ever want to see white towels again.) Not our furniture. Not our home.   

We have to redefine our normal. 

I'll get to that next week. 

Right after I unpack 40 gray plastic totes and umpteen boxes. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Bowl of Fun

"And by tomorrow we shall be moved."

Did I say that? What the crap was I thinking?

It's Saturday night. I can't find a clean pair of jeans. That is because they are still at the other house. I also cannot find all of the hand soaps. That is because they are still at the other house too. I hate moving. And might I just add...


Several someones didn't follow the plan. The plan was to move big things Thursday, personal belongings and living things on Friday, baby shower and clean on Saturday, rest on Sunday and unpack. That was the plan. In real life, though...we moved about half of our personal belongings on Friday. And then we left the rest there until tomorrow afternoon. Poo. 

Wait...did she say baby shower?

Yes. Yes, she did. 

Did I really try to host a baby shower during a move? Yes. Yes I did. 'Cause I'm crazy like that. And because I had already settled on the date before we found out we had to move. And because I am limitless. Or so I think sometimes. But, also...because I needed to spend a few hours among friends during this crazy time. I needed to do something good for the soul. Something that makes me feel a little less discombobulated. I needed to do something for someone else. Something that didn't revolve around the aftermath of our house fire.

So, I did what any self-respecting, super creative, limitless woman would do. I spent some time on Pinterest and I picked out some cute ideas I could totally pilfer. It was a perfectly ducky day!

(Thanks to Hostess {with the mostess} for the inspiration)

Do not make fun of my bubbles. I know that they are not round. I was under pressure dammit!

My favorite glass bowl. 
My kids say I fill this bowl with EVERYTHING. I do. I love it. I have decorated it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, baby shower, and I will put Easter eggs in it next week. That is precisely how many holidays/events I have decorated for since the stupid crock devastated all of my holiday decorating fun. My decorating joy has been reduced to a glass bowl. It is the thing I do to make the rental houses and temporary life feel normal- set a bowl on the table and throw something seasonal in it to make the place feel homey. It is amazing what a bowl can do for my happiness. (I packed and transported that bowl myself. I would have cried if it didn't make the move in one piece.) 

I got to reconnect with some former coworkers, celebrate the joy and anticipation of a friend's new baby, eat really bad-for-you cake, and drink shower punch. It really was good for the soul, if not good for my schedule or my thighs. 

And then it was back to moving hell. Cleaning. Fussing at the kids to help. Packing. Yelling at the kids to help.   More cleaning. Threatening the kids to help. More packing. Shaking my fist at the kids. And so on. 

As I sit on my bed now, too tired to settle down to sleep...I realize a few things about my new temporary home.

Master bath.
One: the master bath is HIDEOUS. The strips of wallpaper don't even match. The silver-gray arch seriously clashes with the beige and mauve wallpaper. And yes, the mirror is actually that dirty. My first priority was to lay shelf paper in the nasty cabinets after attacking them with Clorox wipes so I could set my toothbrush and make-up down without cringing. Hideous I say. 

Two: The wind is whipping strong outside and I realize someone nearby has wind chimes. I don't know this person, but already I like them. 

Three: I have silver-gray bedroom walls. Just like MY bedroom had. I love that color. In fact, the whole house is that color. I wouldn't paint a whole house that color, but I do like the color. I like it much, much better than the house we just moved from with pale yellow walls. 

It really is the little things, you know? The little things can make you really happy, or they can really piss you off. I'm trying to decide if the hideous bathroom will piss me off more than the wind chimes and wall color will make me happy. 

Maybe after a good night's sleep on yet another rented bed, the bathroom won't look so HIDEOUS. 

But if it does, it does. It is only another temporary home. 

And guess what?

My home-home is officially CLEAN! Woot! Woot!

Clean means it is ready to be sprayed with the sealant that will contain all of the icky burnt-insulation post-fire smell that is lingering in the framework. This is the last step before Operation Rebuild commences. 

And that, my friends...is a BIG, BIG thing.           


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moving On

It's moving day!

Oh, for joy.

A series of unfortunate events has resulted in the end of the lease on our temporary home so we are moving to a new temporary home. Because, really...we just haven't experienced enough upheaval yet. Our real home won't be ready for some months yet (I refuse to acknowledge how many) so we are leaving our current home for our new temporary home. That is to say, some of our stuff is at the new place, some of our stuff is at the temporary place, and our mail still comes to the old place. Got all that?

I can't wait to live somewhere that has a working dishwasher and not a rented dishwasher (at my expense) sitting smack in the middle of the kitchen floor. Ah, the joys of renting.


That ice cream truck came in handy after all.

Ice cream truck, you say? What ice cream truck? Did you miss the ice cream truck saga? That's okay. You can catch up here. 

Ice cream truck turned moving truck.

All in all, it hasn't gone too bad. For the most part, everyone followed the system.

You see, I am a systematic packer. Every box is color-coded. The moving schedule is written on the whiteboard in the kitchen. Simple, simple. Strangely, the older the family member, the lower the odds that they can follow the system. The little ones did a fabulous job with just a little help. When they left for school they put their personal items (favorite dolls included) on the bed just like they were supposed to. The middle child packed every single shirt she owns and now has nothing to wear. The oldest forgot to pack at all apparently. One packed but didn't attempt to label until the crew was loading things on the truck. Aye yi yi. 

I get a little crazy when people don't follow the 'system'. 

Just follow the system people! Follow the SYSTEM! Work the PLAN! 

Cooperate, would ya?

(Deep breath)

And by tomorrow we shall be moved. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

How'd That Work For Ya?

Our slow cooker, our stupid crock, had three temperatures:

I know, I know…I’ve told this story before. But, there are days, and today is one of those days, when I take a good look at my life and all I can say is…really? For reals? Stupid crock.

My sweet husband tried to make us dinner. That’s all. He tried to cook a recipe that I got from a blog about Crock Pots. I know, right?! Total irony. Chicken, black beans, cream cheese, cheddar, and salsa all cooked nice and slow, flavors all blended to perfection. He wanted to make sure the whole herd had dinner when we got home. He takes care of us like that. He put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker and set the temperature to Burn-the-Freakin’-House-Down and left it to do it’s thang. 

We actually owned a slow cooker that had only high and low settings, but the big guy didn’t like that crock. He liked the older one that had multiple temperature settings. All I can really say to that is…
How’d that work for ya?
It’s funny, but it wasn’t the issue. The cord shorted out. It arced. It melted. I don’t know…it burned my house down. Or it burned my house up. What do you call it when the house is still standing, theoretically, but it pretty much burnt completely? Is that burnt down? Not really. Is it burnt up? Burnt out?

I’ll go with burnt out. ‘Cause that is how I feel. Burnt out. I am stressed beyond words. My daily conversations with my husband revolve around “did you talk to the contractor/lumber salesman/ roofer/ insurance agent/ structure claim rep/leasing agent/painter/fire restoration company?” They revolve around “what is the next step and what is the resolution?” And they usually end in grief. Because nothing is simple. “We sent off that bid/statement/contract/form/fax and we’re waiting on a call/e-mail/fax/answer.” We are always contacting and waiting.  

Our evenings revolve around buying stuff. I swear, everything we do requires buying something we used to own. Make Valentine’s cards? Buy a Cricut paper cutter, glue dots, scrapbooking paper, and a storage tote to keep the paper in.  Bake cupcakes? Buy a muffin pan, food coloring, decorating bags and tips. Go snow tubing? Buy snow tubes. Shopping is no longer fun. It is a never-ending chore.  

So I sit back, take a good look at this surreal adventure that is our life and say “all because of a slow cooker? All for chicken and black beans and rice? For reals?”

Here is the latest view of the house, from the kitchen, the scene of the fire:

View from the kitchen
This is the view, from the kitchen, through the family room, through the staircases, through 2 bathrooms, into our bedroom.

View from the kitchen through the upstairs
This is the view from the kitchen into the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom. This is where the fire started. Note the charred boards above where the stove was.

All that from a slow cooker with a bad cord. For chicken and black beans. For a quick trip to the store to buy rice. I've been looking at it for 5 months and it is still unbelievable.  

So, you know what? Kiss my arse, you stupid crock. Slow cooking? You and I are over. So over. That blog about slow cooker recipes? Over it.  Slow cooked mac ‘n’ cheese? Nope. Slow cooked apples with cinnamon red hots? Uh-uh. Chicken and black beans? Hells to the no.   




Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sweet End of a Different Journey

I know. I started a blog about the fire. I started a blog so you could all see the progress we're making on the house and our journey back home.

But...guess what?


Okay, that is not entirely true. But it feels like there is no progress. Because they just keep knocking stuff down and busting things out and tearing apart my house. They are not putting anything back together yet. And it is depressing.

I am tired. And sick. Sick and tired of the house and the fire and the whole flippin' mess. Done. Just so done.

But that's okay, because today we got a little break from the sick and tired. We got SNOW!! It wasn't much, but that's okay too. It was enough to get out the snow tubes.

The snow tubes took on a special meaning today. How special? Check this out. Follow me on a little journey through the last year and a half.

Once upon a time, a teenage girl went rollerskating. She did the splitz. On roller skates. With a hip condition we did not know she had. It is called SCFE, for slipped capital femoral epiphysis. It essentially means the ball of the hip was slipping off of the femur at the growth plate, or epiphysis. It was slipping ever so slowly without our knowledge, then she fell, and it slipped right on off of there, like this:

Severe Unstable SCFE
There was a terrible ambulance ride. Lots of morphine. Wonderful orthopedic surgeon. Grim prognosis. He said "this is the most severe form we see. This is a serious emergency. She probably won't keep that hip. She won't walk for a long time." An hour and a half later, my sweet girl returned from surgery with her new hardware installed.

Stable SCFE

We went home and made every possible effort to save that hip. She went home and made every possible effort not to save that hip. She swung like a monkey on her crutches. She refused her wheelchair. She hopped, stomped, stood on tables and crawled across the floor- anything to drive me mad. One simple fall and she would have ended up with a total hip replacement at the ripe old age of 13.

Tuna broke her hip in August of 2010. By February of 2011, she was in physical therapy. She had been non-weight bearing for 6 months. She learned to walk again in less than a month. She was outraged that I would not let her go snow tubing. She assured me she could 'crawl' back up the snow-covered hill and that she couldn't possibly get hurt. Ab. So. Lutely. Not. Hells to the no. 

Tuna has been waiting for snow for a whole year. I promised her, this year, she could go snow tubing. I actually laughed out loud when I saw her zip down the hill. She has made it well past the one-year mark and her hip looks great. The bone has maintained blood flow. There is no sign of avascular necrosis. She walks with no limp. She runs. She snow tubes!

Tuna, Our 'Skiffy' 
She is sweet awesomeness! That was one rough journey and we made it to the other end in one piece. If we walked that walk, we can walk this one too, this fire. We can make it to the other end in one piece. Next year, when we go snow tubing, we'll journey back to our new kitchen to have hot chocolate in our new mugs  and then we'll curl up in our new family room, in our old, cozy home.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Still Swimming

Tonight, at the grocery store, in the checkout line, a very crowded line to be precise, Tuna announced in her loudest, most cheery voice "Fish thinks you and Dad are getting a DIVORCE." Just in case she had not drawn enough attention, she added "because you've been really nice to us, you know, buying us stuff, and because you argue all the time."

I contemplated crawling under the checkout register behind me, but I knew my big arse wouldn't fit under there. I took a slow breath and stared at the white Chardonnay I had picked up for cooking penne pasta al fresco and considered taking up wine drinking. Finally, in an effort to save face I mumbled something about trying to replace the things they had lost in the fire, rewarding her for her hard work cleaning out the basement, and trying to rebuild a house.

I often think that our children are better for seeing us argue and then working things out. They are learning that marriage is tough. Marriage is work. It isn't always fun and happy. Right now, I'm not sure what they are learning, except that rebuilding a house is making us crazy. Of course we argue. We were launched headlong into a complete remodel. It's sort of sink or swim. Or as my mother would say,we're up Shit Creek without a paddle. We're going to swim to the other side, but not without splashing a little water and slinging a little mud.

And the rapids! Good heavens. It's not calm water on Shit Creek. That water is teeming with termite damage, crazy landlords, extra moves, storm clouds...it's nasty stuff. No wonder the kids are worried. We're still swimming though.

Fireplace, black from smoke damage

This last week, two different people informed the husband that our fireplace would never come clean and would need to be torn down and replaced. I immediately got angry. How can we rebuild the house if they keep tearing stuff down? How? We're working backward! I want to go home! I am an inch from screaming "I don't care!" Just leave it black and rebuild my house, right? Wrong. I know I would regret it later.

It just seems never ending. Our original plan per insurance, was to leave the three bedrooms on the main floor and the master bath intact. Last week, they tore them down. There was just no way to thoroughly remove all of the smoke-filled insulation and cold air ducts without removing the walls. Late in the week the contractor announced that the stairs were not built to current code and they are coming down too. Sigh.

And now the fireplace. Oh, and the roofer came and declared that the roof was de-laminating. It took too much heat so it goes too. The house will truly be down to framework now. All for trying to slow cook chicken and black beans with salsa and cream cheese. Blast! Stupid crock.

But wait...there's more!

Storm damage
Friday morning we had a nice, loud thunderstorm. The thunder set off car alarms and woke the kids up. They all played musical beds but I enjoyed sleeping to the sounds of thunder and rain. But when the husband arrived at the house to greet the work crew, he discovered pieces of vinyl siding flopping in the wind. 

'Cause, why the hell not? 

What's one more ripple on the creek? 

We're still swimming. 

Come on Shit Creek! 

Bring it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Menageries and Miracles

Some time back, in a previous post (Sharing the Journey) I made the comment that my son was the only one who had lost a pet in the fire. My family has pointed out that the comment I made was not entirely true. So let me back up and try again.

The night of the fire we actually had several pets in the house. A whole menagerie. A zoo of sorts. There were two dogs- Jai, the Great Pyrenees, and Jenny, the Yellow Lab. Both dogs were kenneled upstairs when the fire broke out, completely trapped and helpless. The fire began in the kitchen and remained contained primarily in the kitchen and family room, but the heat and smoke consumed the whole house and by the time the husband  arrived home to discover the fire, smoke had filled the house to within a foot of the floor.

Jai's kennel
You can see the soot on the walls from the smoke over the dog kennel in this photo. Look close. That is the melted paneling dripping down from the sloped attic ceiling over the kennel. I cannot imagine how the dogs survived the heat and smoke. Jenny, the Yellow Lab was rescued first. The firefighters carried her out, kennel and all. Jai stayed several minutes more. Weighing in at 125 pounds, he didn't get rescued in his kennel. His kennel wouldn't even fit through the hallway. The firefighters tried to get him to walk out but he either would not or could not. Two of them finally carried him out. 

Jai and Jenny both needed emergency veterinary care that night. Jenny had bronchitis and needed a few weeks of antibiotics. Jai had severe pneumonia and was seriously dehydrated. The vet thought we might lose him. He needed more than a month of antibiotic treatment. Both dogs eventually needed antibiotics for tummy infections from the toxic stuff they inhaled. I think it is a miracle the dogs survived.

Jai looked like a dirty mop when he came out of the house all covered in soot and wet. It took a few baths and a small miracle at the groomer's to get him white again. I would love to share a photo of Jenny, but she has no ability to attach her butt to the ground long enough for a photo. 

Once the dogs were rescued, the firefighters returned to rescue this little guy. His name is Joy. Yes, you read that right. HIS name is JOY. Don't ask me. I didn't do it. 

The husband says that the moment when the firefighter handed the rabbit to my oldest daughter was like one of those magazine cover photos where you see a firefighter rescuing someone. He says he will always remember that moment. The firefighter handed her the rabbit and she cuddled it under her chin. Amazingly, this little guy was located right next to the dogs but appeared as if he'd never been in a fire at all. No soot, and no respiratory distress. 

The firefighters then returned for Merlin, the Bearded Dragon, but poor Merlin did not make it out alive. May he rest in reptile peace. Nobody dared ask the sweet firefighters to retrieve the rest of the menagerie. Sadly, they were left for dead. 

That is until the kids had a conniption fit. "MOM! Did you check on the FISH?! The FROGS?! What about your hermit crab?!" For reals? "Guys, I'm sorry, they are dead. There is NO way they survived that heat." "CHECK MOM! CHECK!" 

I checked. I did. Honest. I traipsed through the black, wet, stinky mess that was our home shining a flashlight into the aquariums. There was no movement in the frog habitat. The glass was smoky. The water was murky. Dead. I looked in the aquarium inhabited by one stubborn old goldfish. I kid you not, the fish was sideways. He was floating sideways. I figured he would be dead within the hour. I told the kids the critters were dead. 

Eight days later. Count 'em folks...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8 days later, the fire restoration crew TOLD my kids that the goldfish was smiling at them from the tank. Dang their evil souls. Wouldn't you know it? They were all alive. After a fire. And eight days with no food. For the love of all things sacred!

We took them back to the hotel . I went to Wally World and bought the cheapest, smallest (we were in a HOTEL!) habitats I could find. We were struggling to buy clothing and necessities and there I was buying fish bowls. I thought too small. Who knew the goldfish had grown to fill out his 10-gallon tank? He couldn't really turn around in his bowl. He just floated there, staring out at us. The frogs got a 1-gallon tank and the crab got a 1-gallon tank and everybody got bamboo in hopes of cleaning out their little smoke-filled gills. 

And then, a week later, we moved the whole remaining menagerie to the rental house. For reals. We moved fish bowls full of water. In the car. And wouldn't you know- no sooner than we settled in THEY DIED?! The nerve!

Well, the fish and one frog died. We still have this lonely little guy:

And this little guy:

P'Nuttle the Hermit Crab
He started out with a plastic box and a Solo cup, but since he has survived four months and successfully molted without keeling over, he got an upgrade. 

Alas, we just were not feeling complete here at the zoo. One of our children was missing her guinea pig, Chip who died a few years back. It was not helping that our oldest had found a renewed love for her fire-surviving rabbit and paraded it around gleefully in front of said lonely sibling. And so, because I was obviously still insane from the fire, I decided maybe they all needed a new pet. Guinea pigs, after all, like to live in groups. 

Two weeks before Christmas we visited the pet store just to see how much a guinea pig setup would cost. Wouldn't you know, they just happened to have four male pigs all living in the same habitat that had not even been introduced to the public yet. And they were on SALE! Heaven knows the husband can not resist a bargain and next thing ya know we are at the checkout with four guinea pigs. TWO WEEKS before Christmas. I think the pet store and the husband were in cahoots.  

So, naturally, the pigs hid out in my walk-in closet. Might as well. It's not like I own clothing to put in there now. We told my mother that if the kids called to say they could hear noises coming from the locked closet she was to tell them we thought we had squirrels in the attic. I snuck (that's a word, right?)  peppers up to the pigs every night and held them every day while the kids were at school. I don't know what the hell we were thinking. 

On Christmas Eve we played  out a sort of treasure hunt for a small gift. We did this every night in December leading up to Christmas. Usually the gift was small- candy, or a few dollars to go shopping with. Christmas Eve, the hunt led to guinea pigs. Thank goodness. Because by the 24th, my closet looked like a barnyard, hay everywhere. 

So now we have two dogs, one rabbit, one hermit crab, one frog, four guinea pigs, and the boy has purchased four Bahaman Anoles with the gift card he got on Christmas Eve. He doesn't like cuddly things. He likes reptilian things. Things that bite. And eat live food. Ick. 

Rough Stuff and her pig, Fluffers

The moral of this story? Life is a zoo. At least my life is like a zoo. 

And I wouldn't change any of it. 

Except I wouldn't have a fire. 

And I wouldn't own reptiles. 

Oh, and I'd be skinny.