Two Years Out (104)

Has it really been two years since the fire? Just a couple of weeks ago I was thinking about how people get through bad events in their lives – it was the week of the Boston Marathon bomb and West, TX explosion – and recalled my own personal catastrophe. It feels like the fire was at least five years ago, but the date of May 12, 2011 is burned into my memory (pun intended). My recollection of those first weeks after the fire seems both intense and blurry. The consequences of the fire were so many – months of gutting and rebuilding the house, meticulous listing and pricing of personal property, replacing a household, contractor and insurance paperwork, moving back and forth. The impact on my daily life was so overwhelming that surely it must have been 4-5 years, right?

Perhaps the house fire seems so long ago because I’ve literally moved away from it all. I followed through on my plans to sell (the fire occurred two days before the house was to go on the market) and moved to a different kind of house in a different kind of neighborhood on the other side of town. If before the fire I had wanted a new beginning to my empty-nester stage of life, I wanted it even more so after the fire. The house I left behind was much larger and practically new with beautiful cabinetry and floors and fixtures. Everyone asked if I was sure I wanted to sell, even my realtor. I admit to fleeting moments of doubt, but I knew deep down that it would take more than granite countertops or hardwood floors to keep me there. I was ready to downsize, find a smaller house just for me and the dogs, live closer to the city center, and change things up in my life.

So how are things going two years out, you might ask? Do I miss my big, beautiful house? Have I regretted moving? And more importantly, how are the dogs adjusting? Oh yes, and the human offspring? I’m happy to report that we’re all doing fairly well, even very well in some aspects. I don’t miss my former home, even though it’s been a challenge fitting into a house over a thousand square feet smaller. My new house is about the same age as I am, so it has some wrinkles but lots of character. The same could be said for the neighborhood, but I like being in an older Austin neighborhood with a distinct personality. ‘Transitional’ some call it, though I prefer ‘up and coming.’ I can get downtown in ten minutes and I’m slowly but surely discovering new shops and restaurants in my new part of town. I’ve gained a good friend a few houses down and started to meet more neighbors.

The dogs are happy here, especially my timid Rosie. I think the other house had too much space for her. The yard is big enough for them and plenty of people walk their dogs past our house, so they have lots of fun barking through the front windows. I’ve adopted a cat, Zachary, 10 years old and best friends with Buddy, who is the happiest dog ever now that he has a cat to love on. Daughter Sarah has already spent some school vacations in the guest room and despite its small size, seemed comfortable enough. Son Jacob has had a few bumps in the road in his post-fire recovery, but he has matured a lot, is working hard, and returns to college this summer after a year’s break. Life has certainly been busy since the fire and not always in a good way, but it’s heading in the right direction. I don’t think about my house fire so much any more; I don’t like to dwell on the past. Still, sometimes it’s good to look back, reflect, and appreciate how far we have all come since that Thursday night in May. Just not too often.

Zac and Buddy-2

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My new blog

I have finally begun to write my third blog:

My Life in the Middle Lane: Observations of a Single Empty-Nester

Check it out! I look forward to your comments.


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Launching new blog

I mentioned in my ‘final’ post that I planned to begin two new blogs.  I’ve just posted the first chapter of my new soccer blog,  “From Soccer Mom to Soccer Fan.”

Even if you are a not soccer or sports fan, I’d appreciate hearing from you and please do pass it on to anyone you think may be interested. My next blog, “My Life in the Middle Lane: Observations from a Single Empty-Nester,” will be coming next month.  Thanks!

P.S. – I’m feeling quite settled in my new post-fire empty-nester house and enjoying my new neighborhood!

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It’s not really the end … (103)

Last weekend I had a housewarming party. I’ve been in my new home for over 3 months now, and while there are still a few mini-projects to finish up, the house is basically unpacked, decorated, and settled. This party was approximately one year after the ‘Half-way Home’ party I gave in the rental house last summer. At that time, I thought I was halfway through the rental house phase and would be moving back to my own restored-after-the-fire house. I should have called the party my ‘Third-maybe-even-fourth-way Home’ party, but how was I to know? Probably better that I didn’t. I ended up spending over five months in the rental and then a little over four months in my own restored home. Eight and half months after I had originally planned to put my house on the market, I actually did put it up for sale and then sold it in six days. In the ninth month I moved, again. I set up utilities and cable and changed my address on every account I could think of, again. I wanted to put the fire episode behind me. I literally moved away from the house that burned.

One year ago I began publishing a blog about my experiences surrounding the house fire, my son’s depression, and the beginning of my empty-nester years. I waited six weeks before I posted my first chapter about the fire ( and even then it was tough to write. I still get emotional reading about those early days. The first few months were especially overwhelming and I soon realized that most people have no idea what life after a fire is like. I know because I tried to tell them all too often about what I was going through. I decided that I needed a forum to express the surreal craziness of life after a fire before I totally alienated my friends and colleagues. A few months later, the Bastrop area in Central Texas experienced a series of devastating wildfires. I tried to give some general advice about dealing with the initial aftermath ( and that post has been my second most read chapter so far. I hope it helped some people. That was one of my intentions in publicizing my own experience.

I also began to share the deeply personal ordeal of my son’s depression before and after the fire. Mental illness still carries such a taboo in our society, especially for the male creatures among us. For a short time, Jacob took an informal university class designed to help students deal with depression issues. He was the only guy. Unfortunately, he didn’t stay in the class very long. It would take more time before he truly acknowledged that he needed professional help. The consequences of depression can be deadly. Last summer I wrote about my friend’s depressed son who committed suicide and my own fears for my son; it was my most viewed post ever ( I decided to write about depression because far too many dismiss it, consider it a weakness not an illness; they don’t want to acknowledge it, but it’s far too dangerous to ignore. My son continues to deal with varying degrees of depression and post-trauma, but at least he now realizes there’s no quick fix and is learning to manage it.

It’s been quite a year – full of challenges but also silver linings and small, unexpected blessings. Now that the housewarming party is over, I have begun to feel some closure on the house fire. I am ready to clean out the 400+ e-mails in my ‘House Fire’ folder. It’s time to move on. Looking back now with some perspective, I’m grateful to AAA and Bruce the insurance guy. I was frustrated with him at times, but having heard some truly horrible insurance stories from others in similar experiences, I know now that I’ve been pretty lucky. Triple A, you have a loyal customer for life. The people at Specialty Restoration of Texas, especially Mark the contractor, were absolutely the best to work with. I’ll be forever grateful for their help in navigating insurance requirements and reconstruction details and generally just getting through the year. My realtors, Sharon Downer and Bob Wolk, had my back throughout the whole much-longer-than-expected process of marketing my house — twice! They became my realtors 1 ½ years ago and ended up as my friends. My colleagues deserve a special thanks for all their support, both emotional and financial. Friends and family kept me going, and of course, son Jacob and daughter Sarah make my life worth living, even when it beats you down for a while. Dogs Buddy and Rosie remind me that as long as there is food, water, and belly rubs, life is good. To my all my subscribers and other readers who have come along on this journey, I can’t thank you enough for your encouragement. “Rebuilding house and life after a fire” may be coming to an end, but I’ve found that writing is addictive. I’ve already started planning a new blog or two, and I’ll be sure to let you know when they’re up and running, just in case they interest you. This isn’t really the end, just a pause before a new beginning.

Posted in Blogging, Depression, Dogs, House Fire, My Life, New Beginning, Personal Memoir, Son, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Seeking Closure (102)

Are we there yet? I knew that reaching the one-year anniversary of my house fire would not bring full closure, but I guess I was hoping deep down that I’d be able to close the door firmly on this episode of my life. I was also focused on the one-year anniversary as a deadline for turning in any last receipts to the insurance company. I finally sent them off, so all I had to do was to wait for the final check, another ‘last’ in my fire experience. A few months ago I even sold the house where the fire took place. I’ve moved away. I’m now settled into a new house in a different part of town. I finally got rid of every single packed box, the same boxes that Specialty Restoration had used to store all my salvaged and desmoked property. But I haven’t yet been able put everything in its proper place. I’m still waiting for the replacement buffet to arrive, so I’m forced to store its future contents in the garage. Once the buffet is delivered, I can finally organize my extra dishes, linens, and ceramics. Then I’ll really feel that it’s all over, right?

In the early post-fire months, Mark the contractor told me that it would take a full year after being unpacked and settled into my house before I’d realize that something was missing. You need to go through the whole calendar year, he said, and on some special occasion you’ll ask yourself where such-and-such decorations or equipment or holiday dishes are. Then it’ll hit you – you never did unpack those items. They’re gone, missing in action, just a memory. Unfortunately, the insurance company doesn’t follow that same philosophy. Bruce the insurance guy has been fairly accommodating throughout the process and I have no real complaints. In fact, I’m grateful that the insurance has treated me so well. But one year after the event of a fire (or any disaster that deprives you of your home) is just not long enough. The first months are totally chaotic and your surviving property is taken away to be cleaned and stored. You have no idea what survived and what went up in smoke. The process was prolonged in my case. Even after moving back to my restored house, I didn’t unpack much. I followed through on my plan to sell the house. By the time I settled into my new permanent address and unpacked, the year anniversary was nearly there.

In the end, though, the stuff isn’t the most important. Yes, it’s a nuisance to realize I don’t have some odd kitchen gadget when I need it. I also feel some sadness about the loss of some items that had sentimental memories for me, but I don’t dwell on it. I’ve moved beyond that now. That much I can, indeed, close the door on. The harder part is feeling jumpy when I see or hear a fire truck go racing by, anxious when central Texas enters the fire season, or nervous on a business trip. But really, what are the chances that a house fire will happen again? That I’ll get a call returning from a trip that my son is on the way to ER and the house is on fire? Haven’t I used up my quota of catastrophes? If only it were so simple! I can never truly slam the door shut on such a traumatic experience, but I do see that it is closing slowly. I may wish to shut it completely, but I suspect that the fire door will always remain just a little bit ajar.

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Deja vu (101)

The past week I had an eerie feeling of deja vu. My daughter Sarah was soon to return home for the summer, just as she had last year about this time, and she was returning to a unknown house and a new bedroom, again, just as she had last summer. Of course, last summer was different in some significant ways. We were not in our own house and we had almost none of our own possessions. The insurance company had found a rental house – a huge 3500 square foot house – for us to live in while my fire-damaged house was being restored. Even the furniture and dishes and linens were rentals. It was oddly disorienting and yet, after the fire, a short stay with neighbors, and a week in a hotel, it had already begun to feel like home, sorta. Sarah had quickly found a way to personalize her room there, but she missed, at times, all the stuff normally at her disposal: books, DVDs, and all the usual kitchen and bathroom supplies.

This summer Sarah came home to a much smaller house, just 1435 square feet. That’s more than 1000 square feet smaller than our previous house (and more than 2000 square feet smaller than the rental). Who needs so much space? I certainly don’t now that I live mostly on my own. We are also in a one-story house for the first time in over a dozen years. She felt it a bit odd at first. The guest room, aka her summer bedroom, is much smaller and the hallway bathroom is not just for the kids. I use it, too, since the master bathroom in this 1959 house is tiny. I showed her around the house and explained where everything was. She quickly made herself at home and before I could say ‘welcome back,’ she had taken over the bathroom counter. That’s not going to work here, I told her. I need this space, too.

I need my space — not a lot, but I need space just for me. Much as I love my daughter and son, I also love having my home all to myself. When Sarah first went off to college two years ago, I didn’t suffer the depression or blues or blahs of the new empty-nester. I went shopping and redecorated instead. I bought a nice new clean microwave, never sullied by messy teenagers heating up endless snacks. I outfitted my bed with brand new linens. I ate cereal for dinner and watched TV when I wanted to and planned my free time with no concerns for anyone else. It didn’t last. My son, suffering from depression, returned home, then came the fire, and my daughter returned from college. Then, in the fall, they both left for school. Finally, finally, my chance for an empty-nester lifestyle had returned, and I have to say that I love it.

After three decades of considering the needs of men (two different ones in too quick a succession) and/or kids, I am relishing my new-found freedom probably as much as my kids are relishing their budding independence. This doesn’t bode well for a future romantic relationship, I realize, because I’m not sure I’d want anyone, even a lover, living with me. Not all the time. I need my space. I love both of my kids more than anything or anyone in the world and I love having them visit, but I’m definitely finding it hard to adjust having someone in the house again. I miss my space.

Posted in Daughter, Depression, Downscaling, My Life, New Beginning, Personal Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

To blog or not to blog? (100)

Have I really written 100 entries? This seems almost as incredible as reaching the one year anniversary of the fire. I began posting this blog about six weeks after the fire, but it soon caught up to real time. Friends and family had been e-mailing and wanting to know everything that was going on with me, the kids, especially Jacob, the house, and I couldn’t keep up with it all. Writing a blog to update everyone in one swoop seemed like a good solution. I also realized how little people know about the post-fire process. It’s so overwhelming and seemingly never-ending – the house insurance, the contractor, the rebuild, the health insurance (unless you’re very lucky and suffered no ill effects), the temporary change(s) of household, and the emotional roller coaster this ride can be. There were dozens and dozens of decisions to be made in those first few months. I wished that someone close to me could have held my hand, literally and metaphorically speaking, to lead me through it all.

We’ve all heard how writing or journaling can have therapeutic benefits. It’s certainly helped me to put down in words everything I’ve been going through – the confusion, frustration, sometimes despair, and even a rant or two. More importantly, writing publically has helped me stay connected me to many people just when I’ve needed it most. Through the blog I’ve kept in contact with far-away family, friends, and acquaintances. I hope some people have benefitted through learning about my experiences or those of my son and his difficulties with depression and then his post-traumatic stress. As is often the case when going through some kind of catastrophe, people with similar experiences feel a bond and have shared their own stories. They say “misery loves company” but I lean more towards “troubles shared, troubles halved.” This blog has certainly helped me alleviate some of the stress of the past year.

Now that the first year anniversary of the fire has come and gone and my son continues to make progress in managing his depression, the original raison d’etre of writing the blog has passed. When do I decide to stop blogging? Or do I? Should I try to publish it as, say, an e-book in the hopes of reaching more people? Perhaps I could start a new blog on an entirely different topic? My adventures in travel? My passion for soccer? My love of Judaism? The trials and tribulations of a single empty-nester? Blogging has revived my desire to write that years of graduate school had crushed. No deadlines, no grades, just write. After nearly a year of writing, I’ve gotten the habit and don’t want to stop. Not yet.

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