A Pretty Good Deal

Hello Dear Friends,

Today I was meeting with my friendly used-car dealer, since my beloved Honda, Hi-Ho Silver, is beginning to fail. She’s twelve years old, and has gotten me through some of the toughest times of my life. After my house burned down, she held everything I owned. She took me cross-country to New York and Washington State and points between. She got me There and Back Again.

And now it’s time to move on. When you lose everything, sometimes you get a little too attached to the few things you have left. An old mug, a plastic tray – these things take on so much significance. “This old t-shirt,” I’d sometimes think, “is so precious because it’s from ‘before,’ from my old life, from before the fire.” But really, it’s just an old t-shirt. So even though it’s a bit heart wrenching, it’s time to give up Hi-Ho Silver.

As we sat in the dealership waiting for paperwork to go through, I realized I didn’t have Silver’s title. It burned up along with all my other records; another thing that slipped through the cracks amidst the overwhelming myriad of details that follow a disaster. We called the DMV about getting another one, then sat looking at each other while we waited for my loan to be approved.

“So,” he said, filling time with small talk, “Your house burned down. That’s gotta be tough.” “Yes,” I said, “But there was a lot of good that came from it. In fact, I recently did a TED talk about all the good things that happened.” He frowned at me, “What possible good could come from such a terrible experience?” Before I could answer, my e-mail pinged, and I instinctively looked down and read the new message. I looked up at the dealer and said, “Let me read this to you, and I think you’ll understand.” Here are the exact words that were in front of me;

Dearest Andi,
I read your blog and emails as part of my psychology class while visiting California this week for my sister’s funeral service.  I can sincerely empathize with your feeling of sorrow and loss.  Reading your experiences of loss and the comments from friends brought tears to my eyes as I feel the agonizing emotional pain in the inner depths of my being.  May you find peace and strength through the kind and encouraging words of friends and strangers alike.  God bless you and keep you strong and steadfast as you move forward in life.  We love you.  Ernie and Family.

The dealer asked, “Is that from a friend?” “No,” I said, “This was written to me by a total stranger.” “And someone in California assigned your blog to a psychology class?” he asked. “Yes, I guess so,” I said, “and it sounds like it’s helping him deal with his own grief.” The used-car dealer, probably a bit cynical by profession, gave me a huge grin. “That is really kinda cool,” he said. I smiled back. “It is indeed,” I said. “It is indeed.”

We all get cynical from time to time – caught up in bad news, in the stories of terrible  people doing terrible things, in the little hurtful dramas and heartbreaks that comprise our daily  life. Sometimes we lose faith in humanity, sometimes we simply think no one cares.  Then out of the blue, a stranger says, “We love you.” Out of the blue, someone says, “You helped me,” and you forget your own loss, your own pain. For a moment, you feel like you’re gently holding the soft, sweet thread of the great web that holds all of us together. You feel your deepest heart, your true humanity. Lose your house – regain your faith in humanity. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.

On Monday I pick up my new car. It’s a beautiful blue-green; the color of the Colorado summer sky, the color of the deep blue sea.  I’ll give her a name, and oh, the places we’ll go…

Wishing You Sweet Dreams, Deep Faith, and Happy Travels,

Andi

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 9.39.35 PM

On Stage at TEDx.

Posted in Friends, Good Moments, Moving On, The Kindness of Strangers, Tragedy and Loss | 18 Comments
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Looking Back – Dreaming Ahead

“In this world, there is a kind of painful progress.
Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”
― Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika

Dear Friends,

Well. It’s Labor Day, the third anniversary of the fire, and here we are, three years later. So much has happened, so much has changed, and I have so much to tell you. Not all at once, of course, but over the next weeks and months, as the book progresses, and the blog continues, and life evolves, and the tides of life ebb and flow.

My dog Nellie and I are currently on vacation in Port Townsend, Washington, a tiny town of ten thousand people at the tip of Washington State, surrounded by the sea. Each morning we wake up to foghorns, gently “mooing” in the distance, and the clang of buoys in the bay, and we are far from fire, and smoke, and ash. We have spent most of the summer here, and while it has been somewhat cool and rainy back in Colorado lately, in the past three years we’ve seen the worst wildfires in the history of the state.

In June, over five hundred homes burned down in the Black Forest Fire. Shortly after the fire, I got a call to come down to Colorado Springs to help counsel people who had lost homes. Of course I said yes, even though I had just returned the night before from my mother’s funeral. “Are you sure?” asked the coordinator, “It sounds like this might not be the best timing for you.” “Oh, yeah,” I replied, “Just let me get a dog sitter, and book a hotel, and get someone to water the new plants in the front, and…” I sat down, exhausted at the thought of making the arrangements, then driving for two hours into a smoky disaster area. I called her back and said, “Maybe not,” with a mix of regret and relief. “Maybe someone else can do that,” I said. That’s become my new mantra, “Maybe someone else can do that.”

It’s hard to say “No” to helping someone else, especially other Fire People. It goes against all my upbringing, all my beliefs, but at some point you have to say, “Maybe someone else can do that,” and go take care of yourself. That’s what I’m doing here in Port Townsend – taking care of myself, trying to remember what I like to do for fun (what a concept) and sitting and staring at the ocean. A lot. Waves come in, waves go out, crash, roll, exhale, stare at the horizon, inhale, exhale again… Repeat, over and over,  “Let someone else do that.” I am healing, letting go, adjusting to this new rotation of life after the fire. It is taking, I find, rather longer than I had expected.

I walk the beach each day, and in this small town other beach walkers say hello, and come up to pet Nellie, and chat. There are lots of writers here, and when people ask me what I’m doing in Port Townsend, and I say I’m writing, they often say, “Me too!”

I recently met a woman who is writing a book (based on her blog) about her husband’s death and what she’s been learning from that profound and difficult loss. As we walked, we talked about the challenges of writing a memoir. Which stories do you include? Which do you leave out? How does the overall story shape itself as you write? It’s such a mysterious process, and it was a treat to have someone to talk to about it. I asked her, “What’s your ending? How are you going to finish the story?” and she shook her head. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Everyone wants a Happily Ever After ending – I find a new passion for life, I find a new love, things are better than ever, and we all live Happily Ever After.” “Is that true?” I asked, “Is that what happened?”  She said, “Yes, I found a new love, but he’s not my True Love – that was my husband. How do I write about that?” I nodded. “That’s a different story,” I said. “More complicated, less satisfying, but a lot more real.”

Real stories are like that, I’m finding. We want the happy ending, the happily ever after, the silver lining, because it tells us that no matter what we’re going through, things will get better. We’ll survive this tragedy and come out the other side stronger, better, happier. What I’ve learned is that there is no “other side,” there is only More Life, with all its challenges, joys, heartbreaks, and changes.  Yes, I am stronger, better, and happier than I was before the fire. Life is so much richer, so much more meaningful, so much more interesting. (And friends, I had an interesting life before the fire, so that’s saying something.)

But it has not been easy, and this new life has come at quite a cost. All Fire People know this, I think, as does everyone who has lived through a major loss. We rise again, and we are changed, and no one really knows what that’s like unless they’ve been there. Sometimes that makes us feel very alone, and at other times, deeply connected.

I was having tea the other day at Pippa’s, a cute tea shop in Port Townsend, and the owner (Pippa) and I got to chatting. When she found out I had lost my childhood home to fire, her eyes sparkled with tears. “So did I,” she said, “When I was twelve.” Twelve – the same age I was when my house burned down the first time.  She said, “I’ll never forget seeing it after; it was just a pile of ashes. All I had left was my Barbie doll, my best friend.” It took me right back to the same scene in my own life, looking at the rubble of my childhood home as the sun rose over the smoking ruin, my mother in deep conversation with the fire fighters as I stood in the driveway alone, twelve years old, staring at my charred and melted toys, the shell of my bedroom, the end of my childhood. Pippa and I, total strangers, found that we were both Fire People – changed by fire, bonded by common experience. We exchanged that knowing look, that visual hug, and then email addresses.  Fire People have to stick together, you know.

These days when I talk to non-fire people about the fire, they first offer sympathy, and then get that wistful look I know so, so well. It’s that look that tells me they’re about to say something like, “But aren’t you sort of glad it happened? Isn’t your life actually better now?” They’re about to wax philosophical about the “transforming power of fire,” and how they feel so burdened by all their “stuff,” and how they kind of wish it would happen to them. They’re about to make me want to smack them, frankly, because I swear to God I can see it coming a mile away, each and every time, and I am really, really sick of hearing this. But here is what I tell them:

The day my house burned down, Labor Day of 2010, I was spending my last vacation day in Port Townsend. I was walking the beach with my dog, collecting sea glass, and the biggest thing on my mind was whether to schedule a massage on the same day I got home, or to wait and get a massage the next day. I’m not kidding, that was my biggest worry. It was a beautiful sunny day on the ocean, and I had a great job, and a great dog and lots of friends, and I was the happiest I had been in a long, long time. As I walked the beach, my life was in the process of exploding, and I didn’t even know it.

What I tell them is that if I actually had a choice, option “A” being life without the fire, where everything continued along as it was, and option “B” being life with the fire, I’d actually choose Life B, hands down. But there are days when I would literally give anything to be that girl on the beach again, and to have that day back, that life back, that carefree, bullet-proof life where It Will Never Happen to Me. Now I live in a world that is uncertain, but just like my friend’s non-happy ending, much more real.

When people tell me that my life is so much better now and they wish it would happen to them, it is well-intentioned, of course, and comes from a place of deep longing, I think. It is that longing for simplicity, that longing for the freedom of youth, when we had no “stuff,” and few responsibilities, and lots of dreams. What I believe is this – We all have a “house” that needs to burn down. It’s the house of bad relationship, or dead-end work. It’s the house of too much stuff and not enough joy. It’s the house of dreams deferred. If we could just burn that house DOWN, we think, we could get on with the business of life, with what we were really meant to do. If that house burned down, we could live our dreams now, instead of later.

What I have learned, really learned from all this, is that there is no “later.” Later is a myth, a fairy tale, a bill of goods we’ve been sold. We’re told to be good, to be patient, to work hard, and enjoy life “later.” We have Bucket Lists, retirement plans, five and ten-year plans and you know what? That’s just wishful thinking. Life proceeds apace, and it changes on a proverbial dime. What’s here today is gone tomorrow, and all that’s left are your dreams and energy and God-given talents, so use them now, live those dreams now, don’t save them for the mythical “later.” Tony Kushner writes, “Don’t be afraid; people are so afraid; don’t be afraid to live in the raw wind, naked, alone…Learn at least this: What you are capable of. Let nothing stand in your way.”

Let nothing stand in your way. Burn down that house, whatever it is. Choose Life B, and get on with it. Time’s a wasting my friends, there’s a match being lit somewhere, and we better get ready.

Speaking of that, I’d better get going. The tide is going out, and Nellie and I are heading down to the beach, where Pippa the Fire Person and I are going to walk our dogs and talk about fire, and our lives, and where we are now. It’s a beautiful sunny day on the ocean, and I have a great job, and a great dog and lots of friends, and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time. And later on, no kidding, I’m going to get a massage. The house burned down, and the beach is still here, and it all comes around, and life is good. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep walking through all of this, a day a time, an hour at a time, a moment at a time. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted.

Sending you so much love,

Andi

Nellie on the Beach

 

 

Posted in Moving On, Other Fires, Port Townsend, Tragedy and Loss | 54 Comments
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What to Say When Tragedy Strikes: Tips From a Reluctant Expert

I am no stranger to tragedy and loss. My house burned to the ground when I was a child, and then, unbelievably, again in the Fourmile Canyon fire in Colorado in 2010.  I am, unfortunately, something of an expert in this field.

Most of us have a hard time knowing what to say when someone has experienced a great tragedy. As Americans, we aren’t that good at grief, loss, and mourning. On the other hand, we’re really good at hope, optimism, and resilience, and at seeing the “silver lining.” But all too often, our words of comfort, born out of compassion, actually hurt those we are trying to help. So here are some tips from a reluctant expert in loss, for people who are trying to comfort those who are in the midst of tragedy.

1) Don’t say any sentence that starts with the words, “At least…” As in, “At least you’re still alive… At least you have insurance … At least you saved a few things…” No, emphatically no. Believe me, “At least…” is one of the worst things you can hear at a time like this. The person who has had a great loss is trying to understand what they’ve lost, to somehow take in the enormity of the situation. Trying to make them feel grateful in the midst of tragedy is not compassionate. I beg of you, if you find yourself saying, “At least…” just stop right there.

2) Don’t say, “It’s just stuff.” Suddenly losing a lifetime of possessions is a devastating experience. You have no idea how hurtful and infuriating it is to have someone who did not lose everything wax philosophical about how great it is to “clear out and start over.” So please do not ever, ever say “It’s just stuff.” I found it much more comforting when people said, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what this must be like for you.”

3) Avoid making it a discussion of faith. In times of great loss, faith is often questioned. Your whole world has just been blown apart, and you may not be so sure about God’s role in any of it. So even if you attend the same church, practice the same faith, or feel like you’re pretty sure of their religious beliefs, try not to go there when you’re comforting someone. It may only make them feel worse about what’s happening.

4) Don’t talk about the “silver lining.” This is a tough one. When you’re in the midst of tragedy, death, or great loss, you really, really do not want someone to take your hand and tell you how you’re going to come out of this stronger, better, etc. It’s important to let that person have their own feelings; don’t tell them how to feel, even unintentionally.

5) Don’t remain silent. Many of us struggle with what to say, or worry that we’ll say the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything. This is awkward and unsettling for someone who’s experiencing great loss. You know they know, and you’re waiting for them to say something, and then they don’t, and it makes everything worse. So then what do you say?

6) Say just two things: “I’m so, so sorry. How I can help?” That’s all there is to say – then just BE with them. Hold their hand and cry with them. Bring them food and blankets and gift cards and kleenex and listen, really listen to them when they are telling you just how broken they feel. Just be there.

When horrible things happen, what we really want to know is that people love us and are there for us. We want to know that we’re not alone, and not forgotten. In the days following a terrible tragedy, we don’t want to talk about the silver lining, or to get into deep discussions about God’s will, destiny, national pride, or karma. We’re damaged, in shock, and in terrible pain. We just need love.

So what do you do when tragedy strikes? Don’t hesitate – go ahead and reach out. Send a note, a card, an email, leave a voice message saying, “I just want you to know I’m here for you.” Don’t talk about how great things are going to be once they’re on the other side of this, but do hang on to all that hope and faith and optimism. Hold it in your heart for them, for that day in the future when they do want to talk about it. Someday, it might help them down that long road of recovery. But for now, just love them, and be there in whatever way you can. And believe me, that will be enough.

Wishing you hope, and faith, and quiet strength.

Andi

Posted in Tragedy and Loss | 39 Comments
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Montana: Full Circle

“Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

―Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I drove four-hundred and fifty miles today, from Casper, Wyoming, to Gallatin, Montana. I planned on stopping in Bozeman, but kept going, oddly, until I reached the Gallatin River Lodge, the same place where I stayed two years and two months ago, on the day after my house burned down. Believe it or not, I’m in the exact same room, with the same fireplace flickering in the corner, sitting at the same desk where I sat, two years ago, and wrote an email to my friends to let them know I was okay. I titled the email, “A River Runs Through It,” since they filmed that movie here on the Gallatin River. Little did I know what would follow from that one little note; emails from folks all over the world, starting this blog, being written up in the New York Times, and eventually, interest in turning Burning Down the House into a book. Amazing.

This lovely little inn sits in a huge meadow, and I have the window open, and can hear the roar of the Gallatin River nearby. We are surrounded by mountain ranges, and tonight as I pulled in, the sky was crimson and the peaks white with snow, and my dog Nellie leaped out of the car and raced across the meadow to the duck pond. “Montana!” she seemed to say, “I love Montana! And I remember this place! This is where it all started! Wag wag wag…”

When I arrived here two years ago, I was in shock. I remember I stood at the front door, a suitcase in one hand and Nellie in the other, and stared numbly at the woman behind the desk. She was ready for me – I had called and told them what happened – and she ran over and put her arm around me and said, “Oh, God we are all so, so sorry.” I mumbled something, and she guided me to my room – this room – and then asked me what I needed.

About a half hour later, a sweet young guy knocked on the door and brought me an amazing meal of steak and salad and soup and dessert, and I remember it was the best thing I had ever, ever tasted, and the next morning I noticed it wasn’t on my bill. When I pointed out the mistake, the manager just waved at me and said, “Oh, no, that’s the least we could do.” I remember I cried, right in front of him, so amazed at the kindness of strangers. It was the very beginning of what would become an amazing, tumultuous, and completely transforming journey.

This time when I arrived here, it was after a beautiful day, a day in which I drove across the Crow Indian Reservation, up and down the rolling, desert hills of Wyoming and into Montana, singing at the top of my lungs, reveling in the beauty of the empty highways and the clear, calm skies. When I walked in the door of the Lodge, there were no tears, there was no drama. The woman at the desk looked up and said, “Checking in?” and I smiled and said, “Yes,” and she showed me to my room- this room- and when she asked me how my day was, I said, laughing, “Wonderful!”

So here I am again, two years and two months later, and I have come full circle at last. A river still runs through it, and everything is different, and everything is the same, and I am so, so grateful. Tomorrow, I’m back on the road, and of course, I will keep you posted.

Sending you wishes for sweet dreams, and lots of love,

Andi and Nellie

Posted in Good Moments, Moving On, Nellie the Dog, The Kindness of Strangers, Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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Days of Darkness, Days of Light

December 21st, 2012

Today I was out walking with a friend, and we were talking about the dark days of winter, the time between the end of Daylight Savings Time and the Winter Solstice. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s only about six weeks of darkness, and then the light comes back,” she said. “Only” six weeks of darkness. Time attenuates in the winter, I think, or during difficult times, when days are short and nights seem endless. Like cavewomen and cavemen, we hunker down into our caves and await the return of the Light. No wonder we speak of the “Dark Night” of the Soul.

And then of course, there’s Christmas in the modern world. My father hated Christmas. Perhaps to compensate for his own lousy childhood Christmases, he made a huge deal of it when we were kids. Our house was lavishly decorated by my mother, and Christmas morning always brought a giant pile of gifts under the tree that took hours to open. We celebrated for days, and with large quantities of alcohol. There was a big Christmas Eve party at my Aunt Anne’s, followed by Midnight Mass, then Christmas Day at my Aunt Mel’s, with dozens of our Irish Catholic clan in attendance. By New Year’s Day, we were all exhausted.

As an adult, I remade Christmas in my own fashion, with new traditions and rituals, celebrating the end of one year, one season, and the beginning of another. Each year my Christmas card list grew longer and longer, and it seemed like “The Holiday Season” grew longer and longer as well. I strung lights, I baked cookies, sent a long, detailed Holiday Letter, shopped for the “perfect” presents for everyone, bought tickets for holiday chorale concerts and plays and saw the Nutcracker more times that I can count. It was fun, it was my own Holiday Season, without much alcohol around, and no family drama. And by New Year’s Day, I was exhausted.

Then came the Fire, and Christmas burned up with everything else. By that time, boxes marked “Holidays” took up most of the storage closet in the garage. The ornaments, the creche my mother gave me, the funny little metal snowmen that went on the front steps, the little fake tree, the tree stand, the lights, the boxes and boxes of decorations, went up in smoke. After the fire, as my brave friends and I dug through the ashes, we found bits and pieces of Christmas, scattered throughout the ruins of the house, but nothing intact. We handled these broken bits with rubber gloves, took pictures for the insurance claim, and then dumped them all in the dumpster, off to the Haz-Mat landfill. So much for the family treasures, lovingly and carefully packed up each January. A spark, a flame, some wind and wildfire, and it all goes away.

My first Christmas after the fire, I went to the Goodwill and bought some strands of lights that were in a bin, and a box of old wooden snowflakes, covered with glitter. I went home and found a box of push pins, and stuck the snowflakes and the lights up around the little cottage. “There,” I thought, “I’m done decorating.” Then a few hours later, the UPS guy showed up at my door with a huge box, and when I opened it I pulled out a gorgeous live tree, beautifully decorated with lights and hearts and ribbons, courtesy of my cousin Bridget. I had not spoken to Bridget or seen her for over twenty years, and she sent me that lovely tree, and I wept at the sight of it. Such gracious generosity from a long-lost cousin.

Later that night I sat down at my laptop to write my annual Holiday Letter, and I stared at the blank screen for ages. At one point, my friend Linda called and asked me what I was doing. “I’m trying to write my annual letter,” I said, ” But I can’t think of what to say.” She laughed and said, “Are you KIDDING me? What are you going to write -  ‘Hello Friends, This has been rather an eventful year?’”

I said, “How about this – ‘Dear Friends. Shit happens. Happy Holidays from Me and Nellie,’ and we both laughed until we could hardly breathe. When we settled down, Linda said, “Seriously, you know you don’t actually have to DO Christmas this year, right? Just take care of yourself.” I said, “Oh, okay.” And so I didn’t write my Holiday Letter, or bake, or buy presents, or do Christmas that year. Or last year, really, not much.

This year I realize I don’t know what I want to do for the Holidays any more. It’s not that I’m depressed, or want to skip Christmas, far from it. I’m actually enjoying the blank page that is now the holidays. These days, there are no boxes in storage whispering, “Hey, open us up. Write those cards, buy those gifts, time’s a wastin’…” Instead there is a spaciousness, a question mark, an opportunity.

It is two years after the fire, and I am still reinventing myself in so many ways. Tragedies like fire or flood wash away, burn away so much more than “stuff.” They burn away routine, tradition, habit, and like it or not, give you a clean slate, an empty page. I stare at that page tonight, realizing that like everything, it will fill in its own time.

Last night I was walking around town and decided to take myself on a spontaneous tour through the neighborhoods and look at the lights. At one point as I walked I thought, “Hey, I don’t have to decorate this year, because everyone else has done it for me! They did all this work, and I just get to enjoy it. What if I just pretend that this whole town is my backyard?” I walked around with that awareness, looking at the lights, the trees, the decorations, and enjoying them as if they were mine. I felt like we all shared one big backyard, and our decorations went on and on for blocks.

I walked and walked, and when I got back to the car, I took one last look around and said softly, “Thank you, everyone, for putting up all these lights, for helping me celebrate the season. We are the cavewomen, and the cavemen – you and I – and you are my tribe, and we are all lighting up these Dark Times together.” And I climbed into the car and headed home, humming “Joy to the World,” and smiling.

Wishing you the Happiest of Holiday Seasons,

Andi

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Hallelujah

October 28th, 2012

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

- Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen

Hello Friends,

I was driving in downtown Boulder the other day, singing along to k.d. lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah. I stopped at a light, and was belting it out with the windows open, and a guy in the truck next to me looked over and smiled. I waved at him and kept on singing. (I’ll tell you, that k.d. lang girl has pipes.) In the middle of a verse it suddenly occurred to me, “Oh my god, I’m SINGING in the CAR again! I’m not the Grumpy Girl anymore! I am BACK.”

Before the fire, I would sing in the car almost every day, and sometimes stop at a light and look around at the other drivers in the cars around me. Often it would seem that I was the only one smiling, that everyone else was scowling, grumpy, talking on their phones or checking text messages.  I would think, “Jeez, don’t people know that it’s a wonderful life, and we live in a beautiful place, and if you just looked around for a minute you’d start singing too?” And then we’d all drive off, each of us in our own little universe of joy, worry, or despair.

It was the same in the grocery store. Most of the time I’d wander around Whole Foods, looking at all the pretty stuff, humming as I put things in my cart. Again, I’d feel surrounded by people rushing through the store with death grips on their carts, frowning at their lists, shoving through the aisles. Boulder is a pretty cheerful town, and people are happy to live here. We have 300 days of sunshine a year and spectacular views, which makes for a cheerful populace. But even in Boulder, life proceeds apace, and we all have too much to do and not enough time. Time, the Eternal Bandit, bangs its fist on the door of our minds saying, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” and so we dash from place to place, from event to event, often forgetting to breathe, much less sing.

Many years ago, I heard a talk by a great teacher, who said that life is like a big yellow bus and we’re all passengers. We sit in our seats, looking out the window, and each of us is having a totally different experience of the exact same place. The guy over there is thinking, “How did I get stuck in such an ugly place?” The woman in the back is thinking, “God I’m so tired of this stupid bus. Same crap, different day,” and the teenager over there is looking out the window, thinking, “Look at that meadow! Look at those trees! Hey, there’s a dog! This is such a beautiful place!”

This teacher told me that I can choose how I experience the bus ride of life. I can decide if I’m going to be grumpy, worried, or enraptured with what I see out that widow. It’s all up to ME – no one else decides how I see the view. So the best thing to do, she said, is to pay attention to how you think, to watch your mind, and see where it goes, and try to steer it over to the sunny side of the street. And, it helps to sing along the way.

So I used to sing in the car, hum in the grocery store, and enjoy the ride most days. I was the Cheerful Girl, and then, of course, life threw me a little curve ball. After the house burned down, every external support I had – my beloved home, my stuff, my routines, my sense of place and safety – crumbled before my eyes, and I stepped into the whirlwind that is a post-disaster life. Whether it be fire, flood, the death of a loved one, or a bad divorce – this maelstrom of loss is deafening, disorienting, chaotic and exhausting. You can barely keep your head up, much less sing.

I remember one day in particular, when my friend and massage therapist Dana Wodtke came over to give me a massage. Dana is a big, cuddly bundle of love, who coos and pets you and says things like, “Oh, you’re such a good girl, just relax this nice body and breathe.” She set up her table in the middle of my tiny cottage, put on beautiful music, placed a warm, lavender pillow over my eyes, and tucked me up with layers of blankets. It was so soothing, so lovely. And then… my phone rang, and the answering machine kicked in, and even though the volume was all the way down, we could hear the murmur of someone leaving a long message on the machine. Was it the adjuster, the contractors, the County, a friend, family member, well-wisher, was it the bank calling my loan? As the machine murmured, my cell phone starting to ring, and then kept ringing, about once a minute, over and over, taking messages. I had stashed it in the next room, but I could hear it buzzing anyway. And then there was the constant pinging of my email, softly, incessantly, “ping… ping… ping…” like drops of water in some ancient torture chamber.

At one point Dana stopped the massage and said cheerily, “Well girlfriend, you know what? We’re just going to turn everything OFF for a while!” and she rooted around the cottage, finding and turning off every electronic device in the house. Part of me thought, “NO, I have so much to DO, I have to get back to all those people!” and the other part of me thought, “Oh, screw it. It will all be waiting for me in a few hours anyway.” And then Dana gave me a long, wonderful massage.

But most days after the fire, I would drive frantically around town, with endless lists, talking on my cell phone while other calls were beeping through, saying, “Hold on, I’m sorry but I have to take this other call…” One day I was sitting at a light, clutching the steering wheel, arguing with someone on my cell phone while I was looking at my to-do list, and I looked over and saw a car full of young guys, windows open, singing at the top of their lungs and dancing around in the car.  I thought, “Jesus, what the hell are THEY so happy about?” And then it hit me – Oh my god, I’m the Grumpy Girl. I’m the girl who is clutching her list and banging around the grocery store, stressed out and too preoccupied to even look around.  I started to cry, right there in the car, because I missed the Cheerful Girl, and my previous life so, so much. “What happened to ME?” I thought. “Am I ever going to get ME back?” And then the light changed, and I had to rush off to meet the bankers, the insurance people, the folks from the county, the demolition guys, the builders…

But I did learn something when I was the Grumpy Girl. I learned that the trauma of loss can also be a tenderizer for the Heart. All that pounding can make you softer, kinder, more compassionate. In those months after the fire I would look around at all the other Grumpy Girls and Guys in their cars, and instead of thinking, “Why are they all so grumpy?” I would think, “Ah, another traveler on this sometimes painful road.” When I saw a woman shouting into her phone, I saw myself. I felt compassion for the man with the death-grip on the cart, smacking into me because he was so rushed. Time, death, loss -  they were chasing us all, and we were all Fire People, all refugees, recovering from some kind of grief, some kind of pain. In their grumpy faces I found kinship, and connection, and thought, “Yes, I am you and you are me, Grumpy Girl, Grumpy Guy. I hope we all heal soon.”

A few months ago I did a radio show on public radio about the emotional impact of trauma. There were three of us on the show; a trauma researcher, a psychologist specializing in post-disaster trauma, and yours truly, the Two-Time Fire Girl. It was a great show, and we talked about the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. Sallie Robinson Ward, the psychologist, said, “After a trauma, there’s a long process of catching up with yourself.” When she said this I realized she had captured the experience perfectly. When trauma hits, part of you literally goes away. I don’t know where it goes – out into the ethers, deep into another part of your mind or psyche, but it squirrels itself away somewhere, in another place, hibernating, waiting for warmer weather and a safer climate.

It’s awful when that happens – when you lose the Cheerful Girl – and you pine for her, and wonder if and when she’s ever coming back.

And then one day, the weather turns, and after months and years of running and fighting and struggling and grumping around, you find yourself smiling, and laughing, and you catch your breath with wonder. You realize that you are no longer the Grumpy Girl, but you are once again the Cheerful Girl, and you think, “Oh, I have missed you SO much!” And you celebrate the return of your own sweet heart, the You that is really You, the girl who sits in the front seat of the bus, all in wonder at the beauty of the trip, saying excitedly, “Look at those trees! Look at that meadow! There’s a cute dog! This is such a pretty place!” And you are back, really back, and singing in the car on an autumn day,  “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”

Wishing You Days of Song, and So Much Love,

Andi

The Cheerful Girl in her new kitchen, holding her settled (after two years) insurance claim. Yay!

 

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The Long Road Home

October 15th, 2012

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again;
we had longer ways to go.
But no matter, the road is life.”
– Jack Kerouac

Hello Friends,

I’ve been home for a couple of months now, and whenever anyone asks me how it feels to be home, I tell them, “It’s strange. And wonderful. And strange.”

The final push to get home was intense, of course. Jerry the Contractor and I were here every day, all day, doing Homebuilding Triage, asking ourselves, “What HAS to be done for me to actually live here? What HAS to be done to pass inspection?”

The most unlikely things are required by building code in order to move in (handrails on the deck – yes; doorknobs inside the house- no.) So I moved in, without cabinets, or closet doors, or doorknobs, and we declared it Good Enough For Now.

Apparently, this is how it is when you build a house. You get to the end of the project and everyone is exhausted, the money is pretty much gone, and the lease on the rental is up or the goodwill of your friends has expired. It’s time to move on, so off you go, to live in a construction zone and try to figure out exactly how you can afford to finish this house.

Jerry and I sat down at the cardboard countertop that was my temporary kitchen island, and we started to write the final To Do list, which is called, oddly, the “Punch List.”  I said, “Jerry, is this called a Punch List because by this time we’re both ready to punch each other?” He smiled, and, being the essence of tact, said, “Okay, let’s start. Item number one…”

We came up with eighty-seven things on the Punch List. Yep, eighty-seven. And that did not include anything outside the house (like finishing the deck, the dog pen, the garage…) And of course, being Neurotically Organized, I had to organize it by categories, with an estimated budget for each item, and an estimated date of completion for each task.

By the time we were done with the first draft and I saw how much we still had to do, I put my head down on the cardboard. “God, Jerry,” I said. “I’m just so, so tired.” He looked out the window and said, “It’s okay, We’ll just take it one thing at a time.” “Yep,” I said, “One thing at a time.”

And so began what I call the Siege of the Subcontractors. Each day I woke up to a new fleet of trucks outside the house, and a new gang of guys unloading “stuff” onto my front porch – electricians, plumbers, carpenters, cabinet makers, and of course, Jerry, holding it all together. And you know, these guys like to start EARLY in the morning, and I am not exactly a morning person, so this whole thing has been rather a challenge to my sanity.

One morning I walked out of the bedroom with a cup of coffee to find three carpenters, the tile guy, the cabinet guy, the glass shelf-installing guys, the appliance guy, plus Jerry and the construction supervisor, in the living room. I looked around and said, “Oh my god, it’s RAINING MEN!” The older guys laughed out loud, the young guys just blushed and went back to work.

And of course, construction is NOISY. Saws, hammers, and the endless drone and whine of machines filled the air nearly every day. People would email me – readers, well-wishers, friends – and say, “Oh, I hope you’re enjoying the lovely peace and quiet of your new mountain home,” as someone would be drilling a hole in my bedroom wall.

What could I say? I wanted to give my friends a break, and not bother them with the noisy, gory details of finishing a house. “When is the housewarming?” they would ask. I’d look at them through a haze of exhaustion and say, “Oh I don’t know. In October? Spring? Never?”

On the weekends, Nellie and I slept. We slept for hours, days, only getting up to eat a little, take a short walk, and then crawl back into bed. I filled my giant bathtub, turned on the jets, and soaked, and then climbed back into bed. I took two, sometimes three baths a day, being a Bad Earth Citizen and using too much water and electricity, but I didn’t care. I had been to Hell and back, and now I needed to rest. I let the machine answer the phone, didn’t go to town at all, and just slept. For weeks.

And then one night, I started to feel better, and I decided to start the clean-up on my land. For you see, my land is not doing that well. The fire has left me with three acres of sticky, gnarly, invasive weeds, where there once was a beautiful tall-grass meadow. To the casual observer, it looks green and lush, but if you look closely, it is a tangle of sticker-filled plants that shouldn’t be there.

So I started pulling weeds. In the long, end-of-summer evenings, I’d put on my leather gloves, and Nellie would follow me out into the meadow, and I would pull bushy, two-foot weeds out of the ground, one at a time, over and over, hundreds and hundreds of them. I made piles of weeds, and bagged them up so the seeds wouldn’t spread. Inch by inch, foot by foot, over the course of weeks, I cleared my land.

For the first two days, every muscle in my hands and arms ached, but I stood taller, knowing that my land needed me, and I was heeding the call. And when I would come back, a day or so later, to a place I had weeded, I saw native wildflowers starting to come in. Lupine, harebells, red and yellow blanket flowers – they sprang up and began to blossom. My land, like me, was coming back to life. It was glorious, healing, miraculous.

And I grew stronger, with all that pulling and hauling and shoveling. I set up my laptop and a small speaker out in the meadow and listened to Frank Sinatra sing, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “My Way” as I pulled weeds. Frank would make me smile, and Nellie would sit under a tree and wag, as if to say, “Good job Mom!” (Or perhaps, “Thank God I do not have opposable thumbs and am therefore exempt from such labor…”)

I didn’t have the money for professional construction clean-up of the property, so I did it mostly myself. I sorted and hauled the leftover lumber, shoveled a literal ton of leftover gravel and distributed it around my foundation, and hauled dozens of hay bales and got them ready for re-seeding in the Spring.

My friend Matthew came out from Chicago and stayed for a week, and we spent most of the time sorting an entire dumpster full of scrap lumber into piles. We jokingly called it “disaggregating data,” since Matthew and I did our graduate degrees together at CU, and are both academics by trade. “How many domains do we have in this analysis?” he asked, looking at the various piles I was making as we sorted lumber in the hot August sun. “Let’s see, ” I said, “This pile is trash, this one is burnable wood for the wood stove, this stuff has too many nails, this is laminate and won’t burn safely, this is too heavy for me to split, this is good construction lumber, and this is extra decking material, so, seven different piles, each with a different destiny.” He said, “Doctor O,” (one of his many nicknames for me) “You are a force of nature.” “No, ” I said, “I am just neurotically organized.” And we laughed, and sorted more wood.

My old boyfriend Greg also came out for a visit, and helped me haul wood and hay bales and giant landscape rocks, and we jokingly started calling my house “The Sugarloaf Gym.” “Free workouts!” I would yell as we shoveled gravel into piles, “Try the Wheelbarrow Machine – no membership fee!” At night we’d fall on the couch, exhausted, but with a feeling of accomplishment. It was looking better every day.

When everything was organized, I put a note on our local list serve, saying that I had free landscape rock, lumber, firewood – yours for the hauling. And then another amazing thing happened – I started meeting my neighbors.

When I moved to the mountains twenty years ago, it was to get away from people, not to connect with them. My life in town was busy and noisy, with students and colleagues and friends and too much traffic in our growing city of Boulder. My “community” was in town; at home I just wanted to be left alone. Yet after the fire, people came out of the woodwork – neighbors whose homes had burned, and those whose hadn’t. People wanted to help, to meet me, to talk about the fire and life in the mountains. And to my astonishment, I found new friends, in a place where I had just wanted to be left alone.

One neighbor e-mailed me and said, “I’m reframing my big picture window with your leftover wood. Thanks SO much!” Instead of my stuff going into the dumpster or to recycling, it was going out, all over the mountain, helping other Fire People and neighbors take care of their own land, their own homes.

Each time someone drove away with a load of stuff, I grinned, my heart overflowing with gratitude. Another step, I thought, in this Long Road Home; the road home to my own heart, the road that Fire started me down, first at twelve, and then again forty years later. For this is the real road we all travel; the road to love, to connection, to community, to deeper meaning. As Kerouac said, “The road is life,” and you never know just where that road will lead.

Case in point – a while back, a neighbor I had never met called about picking up some of the landscape rock. I had house guests, and the timing was bad, but I said, “Sure, come over and pick some up,” and when he stepped out of his truck and onto my driveway I stopped in my tracks and thought, “Whoa! Cute. Neighbor. Guy…” And so we shoveled gravel together, and then a week later, he called and asked me to dinner, and then we went to lunch, and then on a hike, and to a show, and these days we are enjoying each other’s company.

So I guess I’m “dating” again. Me, the woman who has been single for years – happily single, fiercely single, guarding her singlehood like a mother bear protecting her cubs – is now dating. Who could have seen that coming?

The house and the meadow are blossoming, as am I. As of this week, I am declaring an end to the Siege of the Subs, and calling it good. The house is as done as it can be, and I have to really, finally, move on.

Because, you see, it’s time for another new chapter in my life. I’ve been approached by a literary agent about turning Burning Down the House into a book, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to sit down and tell you the rest of the story – about how my house burned down, first when I was twelve, and then again forty years later, and about everything in between.

And of course, I’ll keep you posted.

Sending You Wishes for New Adventures, and So Much Love,

Andi

[Special thanks to all the friends and neighbors who helped with the Great Clean Up Effort, including Matthew Goldwasser, Greg Wright, Greg Kyde, Susan Hofer, Karen Rosga, CB, and the many neighbors who hauled away lumber, rocks, and wood. You are my Army of Angels. And of course, my endless gratitude goes out to Jerry Long of JA Long Construction, the most decent and gracious contractor in the Known Universe.]

 

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There and Back Again

July 15th, 2012
One Year, Ten Months, and Nine Days
Since the Four Mile Canyon Fire

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
- J.R.R. Tolkien

I am home. I have gone There and Back Again, and returned to my own front door, and it is all changed.

Some people think that Jerry Garcia wrote those famous lines about the road going on and on, but it was JRR Tolkien, a man who saw the horrors of World War I, who lost his true love and soul mate before her time, and who dealt with his grief and loss by telling tales of heroic little Hobbits marching steadfastly into the face of evil and conquering it – but not without a price.

Bilbo Baggins defeats a dragon and returns home with untold treasure from the dragon’s lair, but it takes its toll on him. He tells Frodo he feels, “Thin… like butter scraped over too much bread.” And Frodo, the hero of his own quest, comes home damaged and frail. He writes in his journal, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?” Frodo never really finds peace at home, and eventually sails off to the Undying Lands with the Elves.

What is home when you finally come home again? And who am I, now that I am home?

I have gone to Mordor and back again – a long, slow trudge through jagged peaks and fiery chasms, and finally made my way home to this beautiful house. I have envisioned this house, this day, for almost two years. I have worked every day for months on end, with the architect, the contractor, and dozens of trades people – going over and over the budgets, the design, the energy systems, the plumbing and electric and the thousands of details that make a home. I have been involved in every detail of building this magnificent little ship in the clouds, and yet I am a stranger to it. It is as if we have just met – we will have to get to know each other now.

And I will have to get to know my new life now. For two years I have been a refugee, a middle-class displaced person dealing with grief and loss and more change than I ever wanted to face. And now I get to be “normal” again. Not a Fire Person anymore, just a friend, neighbor, colleague… What will that be like? Is it even possible?

Once again, I am starting over. At 55, I begin again. As the Chinese say, it is a time of “Dangerous Opportunity,” a time of change and challenge and new beginnings.

I walk up to the front door, take a deep breath and open it. I am shaking hands with my new house, my new life. “Nice to meet you, ” I say, and look around. A window seat, a lovely fireplace, a spectacular view. “Wow,” I say. “I wonder who lives here?” I believe I will now find out.

I’m going to grow old here, looking at this view, writing about this place. Me and Nellie and other dogs and perhaps a true love, a best friend, my Partner in Life. Wouldn’t that be something? We will all get to know each other, and laugh and love and count down the days, and watch the sunsets each night over the mountains.

When Frodo was in the midst of Mordor, his own personal Hell, he looked up into the sky and saw stars, peeking through the darkness. “Look,” he said, “Amidst all this evil there are still stars.” Amidst all this tragedy and loss there are still stars at night, wheeling in the skies over Boulder, like ever-fixed marks, the heavenly chorus of light.

I will pass my days here, in this house, on this land, and I will keep looking up. The road goes ever on and on, and as Bilbo said, “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”       I think we will have many adventures together before we reach the end of the road, you and I.  Thanks for walking with me.

Sending you Love, and Wishes for Sweet Dreams,

Andi

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“Expect Delays”

Saturday, July 7th, 2012
Twenty-Two Months After the Fire

Hello Dear Friends,

Well, the new house is not quite finished. Since the lease ran out on Rental Number Four,  Nellie and I are spending the week in a hotel here in town.  It’s only a week, so in the grand scheme of things, no big deal, but I find it funny that after writing “Sliding Into Home” I am still “stuck on third.”

A friend of mine once told me a great story about an experience she had with delays. She was driving home late one night on a two-lane country road, way out in rural Ohio. She’d just come from a long series of meetings about a big project she was working on, and was frantically worrying about all the tasks she had to accomplish. Suddenly, she saw a huge construction sign loom out of the dark, flashing, “EXPECT DELAYS.”  She slowed down and kept looking around in the darkness for equipment or road construction, but never saw anything out of the ordinary, just the lone sign in the middle of nowhere, flashing out its message.  She realized it had probably been left behind accidentally by construction workers, but being a contemplative person, she decided to take it as a sign from the Universe  – “Expect Delays.” She decided, as an experiment,  to consciously practice giving up expecting anything to happen on time. It turned into a wonderful practice.

During the course of her project at work, each time they got behind schedule, the rest of the team would freak out, but she would smile and think, “Ah! Expect Delays.” Eventually, of course, the project was completed, only a bit behind schedule in the end, and she had learned a great lesson about expectations and serenity. She said the experience changed her life; all because of a flashing sign in the middle of nowhere.

In our culture, we love deadlines and timelines, and we love to chop time up into little pieces that we think we can parcel out and control. We take a complex process like building a house and try to put in on a schedule. We wonder, “How long will it take to finish the house?” So we come up with an arbitrary number of months and then try to make reality match our expectations.  And all the while, the Universe chuckles, and flashes its little sign, “Expect Delays.”

I, of course, have been chomping at the bit to get home for the past two years, and have badgered my poor contractor incessantly. “When are they pouring the foundation? How long will it take to dry? When do the framers start? How long will that take? When does the drywall go up? How come we’re behind schedule? Is there anything I can do to move things along?”  Jerry, with infinite patience, replies, “Nope. This is just the nature of construction. Things happen.” And, of course, things do happen. And that is not only the nature of construction, but of life.

In spite of my fussing, this whole burning-down-the-house experience has taught me so much about letting go, not only of “stuff,” but of expectations. It has taught me to focus less on  the future (What if…?)  and more on the present (What IS.) It has taught me to be more spontaneous, and it has shown me that in many ways, for many years, I have been a prisoner of my own expectations.  It has taught me to not only expect delays, but to roll with them, and to look for the hidden blessings in each one. It has shown me, ultimately, how to be more free.

So this week, instead of being home, I’m in a cute little hotel suite in town, where it is pouring, pouring rain. Nellie is sitting at the window, watching the world go by, and I have some quiet time to sit and reflect on the last two years, and rest a bit. Just one more bend in this long road. I wonder what’s around the next corner…

Enjoy the week and all it has to offer,

Andi

Curt and his son, Connor, measure for blinds

Construction cleaners get the house ready for move-in

Barbara organizes the window covering order

Jerry keeps calm...

... and carries on.

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Sliding Into Home

July 1st, 2012
Two Days Before My Fifty-Fifth Birthday

Dear Friends,

Guess what I’m getting for my birthday this year?  A NEW HOUSE!!! That’s right, we passed final inspection on the house on Friday, so I am really, finally, going home. At last.

When the inspector arrived on Friday, I was nervous. There were only a few electrical corrections to make from the previous inspection, but we’ve had so many setbacks these last few months that I held my breath and barely dared to hope. And when the inspector turned to me and said, “Well, you can start moving your stuff in now,” I choked up. I thought that when that moment came I would jump up and down and hug him, but instead I just stared blankly at him and said, “Really? Are you sure?” He laughed, and said, “Yep!” and I turned to Jerry the Contractor and said “Oh my God! I have a HOUSE!” And I have not stopped smiling since.

Building a house is an incredible privilege, and it is also a maddeningly imperfect process. You can make impeccable lists, research every topic down to the finest detail, check and re-check, and things go wrong anyway. The wrong bathtub gets ordered (that one was my fault) the light fixtures somehow get lost in the mail, you end up a box short on the bathroom tile and can’t quite get the back splashes done, and on and on. The countertops you thought were ordered two months ago somehow slipped through the cracks and never got ordered at all, and you have to send the plumber and the electrician and the tile setter home, and everyone gets grumpy and irritable, especially you.

Each major delay sent me into a new emotional tailspin. The worst was this spring, when I found out the house wouldn’t be done by the first of May as we had planned, which meant I had to go look for yet ANOTHER place to live (number four.) That was one of my low points. I was already so exhausted from moving three times, managing all the details of the insurance AND building a house AND helping other fire survivors AND working, and I just couldn’t face yet another temporary rental. People would ask, cheerily, “When will the new house be done?” and I would grumble, “Oh, don’t ask!” I was clearly not at my best.

Things never turn out quite the way we imagine, do they? We think we have a level of control, or security, and if we do everything right, voila! We’ll get what we expected. If we work hard and save, we’ll get to retire. Who knew the company would go belly up, and the retirement fund disappear? We think if we eat right and take care of ourselves, we’ll be healthy. And then wham – a terrible illness hits, out of the blue. We think, “Wait a minute, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” As John Lennon wrote,  (over quoted, but so, so true) “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

In the beginning of this process, I imagined I would build the perfect house.  Instead, I’ve gotten to the “good enough” phase, where instead of perfection, you just want to be finished.  In the final months of a house building project, you’re just plain exhausted. The house is gorgeous, yes, and you love it, but your brain is fried, the money is running out, and it’s a race with the clock. By the time I got to choosing light switches, I was about done. “Plastic or metal? Paddles or levers? Dimmers or on/off? Screwless plates or the standard kind? White, almond, or a custom color?”  Oh, I don’t know. Whatever. Just put something up there and we’ll call it good.

For the last two years, I have imagined that finishing the house would be like hitting a home run. I’d swing the bat and crack! the ball would sail out over the field, over the fence, while the crowd cheered. I’d take a leisurely victory lap around the bases, waving my little hat, and gracefully touch home plate without breaking a sweat.  But these last few months have been more like being stuck on third. I’ve been standing there, itchy and restless, inching my way toward home plate, waiting, and waiting, and wondering if this inning of my life would ever be over.

And now, instead of a graceful jog around the diamond, I am sliding into home.  On Friday, when I move – for real and forever – I will at last leap off of third, and run as fast as I can toward the plate. I will dive into the dirt – reaching, and reaching – and finally, finally touch home. It will be messy, and imperfect, but I will stand up, and dust myself off, and cheer, as the Umpire declares, in a loud and triumphant voice, “SAFE!”

And I know you’ll be cheering with me.

Thanks for being on my Home Team, and Sweet Dreams,

Andi

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