Anniversaries

Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the house burned. (As it happened, it’s also the anniversary of wedding my ex). So, I’m going to take some time for looking back on what I did right and what I did wrong. And, take time to make time to get back to writing. But I’m only looking back two years to the fire. I’m just writing a post, not a book.

The most important thing I did right was when I decided to settle with the insurance company. I didn’t want a false incentive to rebuild my life “cookie cutter” style, nor to work hard at digging deep for proof of all that I owned. “Cookie cutter” was the adjuster’s phrase. If you choose the “build your house back” option, cost overruns are only covered if you build back exactly as it was. Meaning that if you upgrade to stone counter tops or move a wall, any completely unrelated cost over runs in the basement or drive way are not covered. When you live in a house 23 years, you can’t help but see some things you’d change. I had one of the more modern floor plans for my neighborhood, but the house was more than 30 years old and trends change. It was still not what you would build from scratch for the next 50 years. I moved on and sold the lot. A builder put a spec home there. He did a nice job of building a current home that fit well in an older neighborhood and it sold for a top price. I thought the clean slate was a good result for the neighborhood that I called home longer than any other and I felt good about that.

There are drawbacks to a clean slate though. When you are building back cookie cutter, there are few decisions to make because you already made them. “Same” is the answer to everything and you just watch the contractor to be sure it’s done right. When you do that, moving on in ways unrelated to dwelling and contents moves up in the queue. When everything is a new choice, the layers of choices past aren’t there building the foundation of quick new decisions. A conscious choice to start from scratch is not for the weak at heart. Those decades of layered choices are how you ended up with the life you had, and even though stuff is just stuff, it’s the stuff you use for your life and insurance isn’t designed to improve your life, only to keep you from suffering if the worst happens. The mistakes you make while remaking your home are at your own cost, just like the original ones were. The more unknowns, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.

The biggest surprise was how long things took. I thought there would be more Amazon.com involved in my rebuild, but things didn’t fall neatly together. There was the unexpected news that we had a seller’s market going on big time. I knew that neighbors weren’t having any trouble selling in my great school district, but I didn’t know just how hard it was to buy. We even went to a neighboring area where the school scores were a couple of percent lower, but finding a home was really tough, a big time sink. I was in that price range that has the most people in it, so well-priced houses were snapped up quickly. Now, I’m driving past houses we looked at nearly daily. I’m glad we didn’t end up in any of them and Russ says the same thing. But, there were complications and delays. We were still looking at back up houses the week before closing in case the deal fell through. I hated to ask to see a house when I had one under contract, closing in a few days, but I really didn’t have confidence in closing and I really didn’t have time to fail. If it hadn’t been for my allergies and that little hint of dog smell left in the carpet I might have jumped ship and be living in the last other house we looked at instead. Of course the irony there is that the house we bought had knock your socks off pet odors, but for that house the cure was to rip out everything and seal it with Zinsser.

The biggest mistake I made might have been having the urge to get on with things and buying before I had a permanent place to be. We had the goal to replace as much as possible through thrift stores and estate sales. It was the only way to get some semblance of the quantity and quality of what we had back. When you appreciate the quality, weight and feel of an antique tool, flimsy short term pressed sheet metal doesn’t cut mustard. We had to buy things when we could find them. They might not be available again. So, in some respects, it wasn’t a mistake to do it that way. And that may just be how it is when replacing a household, but it was definitely the hot spot. The place where it hurt was in the mix. Getting the right house meant getting a fixer because of the market, ours came with delays. We piled stuff on top of stuff inside of stuff and then rearranged stuff so that we could fit in more stuff. The irony being that 5 years from now we might have bought an Airstream (or a Spartan) and chosen not to even have a stationary home. It wasn’t 5 years from now though, it was two years ago. I replaced a lot of hobbies and do it yourself tools, household items and just plain stuff. The pile of stuff FOR the house gets in the way OF the house while we’re working on it, and it gets covered in saw dust too. My son downsized and wanted to fill my basement the day we closed. Life doesn’t stop going on just because we are still really, really disorganized and stressed. Moving stuff to do stuff. Moving stuff to clean it or clean behind it, or to keep from having to clean it. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSd6-EvBgN4 We thought after things settled, we might take a long overdue vacation. One where we don’t carry our food and bed on our backs. One where we walk on the beach and sleep in a bed. Russ had an injury in the spring that lasted through the summer. There’s no telling how over due that’s gonna get!

The uncomfortable irony happened when we learned from neighbors that lightening had struck several times in the new neighborhood. So far, it’s been mostly tree damage. The old neighborhood was in a dip and I never worried about tornados. The new neighborhood had several new roofs due to storm damage. I noticed before we bought that several homes had new roofs, but I had guessed it was just the age of the neighborhood. Later a nearby house burned. I was coming home and saw the dreadful black plume. Every turn brought me closer to a home I’d been in for only a short time, and every turn I was unable to tell that the plume was coming from somewhere other than my home. I don’t wish loss on anyone else, but another fire before recovering from the first? I really hoped it wasn’t me. At the same time, I started going through emergency choices in my mind. I listed settling as the best choice I made, but that double edged sword also makes me wonder if it was the worst. The whole thrift replacement idea got me some cool finds, but all that time and gas… there is no reimbursement for that, and I was only able to do it because of my employment gap. I believe that if it ever happened again (please, NO!), I’d go the other route. Rent close by and rebuild. At least if you know where you’re gong to live, it is possible to know if you’re renting nearby when you sign the lease. This time no corporate apartment in an inconvenient area. Get a nearby rental house this time, and rebuild this time. Make it as fast, painless and finished as possible. I’m not sure I regret how I made my lemonade over the past two years, but the litmus test for any choice is “Would you do it again?” Right there in that moment, drawing closer and closer to a plume that could turn out to be my own? The road was long. The answer was “no.” For that house at that time, maybe my decision was right, but I hope I never find out what it would be if it happened again, and I hope you, dear reader, never have more than a passing interest in what your decision might be either.

Hard Wood

I was cruising Craigslist one day thinking about the thick 1950s knotty pine paneling that a friend of mine ripped out of a flip several years back. I gasped when she told me she threw it away. I thought there might some other renovator out there who had the wherewithal to keep theirs out of the landfill. That’s when I found the Savvy Salvager in Avondale Estates. She was working with a builder who was about to tear down some mid century ranch houses and put up newer ones, connecting people like me with the resources we wanted to rescue/salvage. There was knotty pine AND there were hard wood floors. I had been thinking of installing bamboo floors in the new house to get a look similar to hardwoods without the cost. There is also the fast growth rate of bamboo, making it a quickly renewable resource. Re-use trumps quickly renewable resources though and there’s the lasting beauty of wood. If we ripped it out ourselves, actual vintage hardwood was also the least expensive option. We made an appointment and went down to see the house.

I was definitely willing to do the work to get the knotty pine, so Russ and I talked about the floors. The purchase price for access to the materials was attractive, but the success of our outcome was an unknown, so it was a risk. The closing on the house had become uncertain as well, so there was risk on top of risk. We do a lot of things, but we had never demoed something on this scale, or for re-use. Taking it out carefully so it is both pretty and functional was the newbie challenge.

I thought the floors would be a “Russ” job. I said that I would support him however I could, but that I realized it had to be his decision because he’d be doing the work. Russ took the leap of faith, but the job turned out to be bigger than both of us.

Working in Avondale Estates and with the Savvy Salvager was the fun part. I loved her job and would still like to find someone on my side of town to work with in the same way that she does in her area. There is a small neighborhood radio station “AM 1690 Voice of the Arts”. We bought a battery-operated radio because the power is always turned off in a demo house. We listened to 1690 exclusively and really got into our sense of place. It’s the only station I know that periodically plays a bird call (or a whale call). Travel is one of the great joys in life, and sometimes the best trips are not geographically distant.

Avondale Estates is also the home of Waffle House. Our favorite restaurant in town wasn’t Waffle House though. It was not a franchise, Palookaville, home of the world’s best Corn Dogs and adult only milkshakes. Before my first visit I didn’t even like the idea of a corn dog and I couldn’t imagine a milkshake with alcohol, but we knew we’d eat there often and having a reason to be nearby certainly didn’t dissuade us in our decision to move forward. It turned out to be the only place we ate, our exclusive after demo respite. They are famous for the dogs, but the Cobb Salad with Pine Street Market bacon was pretty sweet. The sandwiches are good too and there’s a thrift store on the other side of the parking lot that had some of the best potential I’ve found to replace some of my lost treasures, or to find replacement home goods that remind me of things lost and the people they once belonged to.

I had more trouble with the paneling than I expected. I had to call Russ in when I didn’t have the strength. It was the survival factor. Anyone can sling a sledge hard enough to break something, but it takes superior controlled strength to disassemble with a carpenter’s crowbar. Most of the paneling came out well, but a few pieces broke. I took the picture below when I came to the place where the bathroom medicine cabinet had been up against the paneling. Have you ever noticed the disposal slit for the old fashioned razors? Well here’s what happens.

When I finished the paneling, I became Russ’ helper. I started taking out nails. They were cut nails, big sturdy nails that look a lot like a horseshoe nail. I hammered them backwards and a few would fall out, but I had to grab most and pull with the claw or pliers. One person told me they used a saws all and left the heads in the boards, but I have the slow cooked mindset of someone who will put thousands of hours in a textile project. Sometimes I think I have a finer sensibility and sometimes I think I should value my time more like other people.

My job expanded. Russ, Avondale Estates, the project, the opportunity to thrift in a different direction on the way, my center of gravity was there. I’m not really sure how much help I was. My skill set and my physical strength were growing, but not nearly fast enough and it wasn’t cost free. I was working at the edge of my capacity, both physically and emotionally. There is no air conditioner in a house without power, no fan either, just stale abandoned house smell…at best. In the original scenario Russ was coming over alone after work most days, but it turned out that I went over while he was at work and we were there together after. It was my choice to expand my role, but the work was hard enough that I still felt like a failure. I did more and felt worse about it. Before it was all over, it morphed into Karen does whatever she feels like she can handle and Russ does all the other stuff. To the outsider it may have looked like I was in charge, but really what happened is that Russ let me do the parts I thought I could handle and then he made sure it all worked.

Our uncertainty about, and our commitment to the project intensified with every drop of sweat, every thick heavy cut nail. We still weren’t sure we would get the house we planned to put these boards in, or how many we needed if we did. The seller shut down access after due diligence. We expected a quick closing, so we hadn’t measured and assessed things the way we would have if we had known we were going to try to make decisions ahead of access. So, with all the unknowns and a need to be working toward something, we took another leap of faith and bit on the floors in a second demo house. The price was higher per square foot on this one though. The wood wasn’t quite as nice either and the demo date was more likely to be an issue. Our Savvy Salvager had been clear at the beginning that demo would not be held up if we didn’t finish, so the stress was on. The weather was warmer for this house and we couldn’t open the key door and windows that would have allowed for the best breeze. Russ and I each experienced a death in the family over this time period and moving forward was an act of unfocused determination, a half minded, single minded one foot in front of the other kind of march.

A Rollercoaster Named Overwhelmed

My writing has drifted out to sea in the rush to get the house ready for move in. For over a month, the floors have been a plague and we’ve had to go out of town twice for family funerals, one on each side of the family. We’ve also made other trips for other family obligations. “Hurry up and wait” has gone and any sense of order is just a lofty aspiration. Things bought for the house, the booth or the Etsy stores are scattered about the house like sprinkles poured on heavy by a child. As I am writing, I am thinking of the list of the things that we’ve done over the last month and I’m not really sure how we fit it all in, but I am sure why people are telling both of us we look a little short on sleep. This has been the year when people stopped telling me that I couldn’t possibly have children and a grandchild the ages of mine, and started asking if I qualified for the discount.

These are the times when I really question myself about how it is that I choose to do things, as in- never the easy way, but this time going about things the hard way wasn’t all in choice. A lot of the things that I thought would be the easy, low stress or expedient choices weren’t. It seemed reasonable to expect that buying a house would be less complicated, lower stress and a faster recovery than rebuilding the house we lost, but the housing market in our area is so strange now that it didn’t turn out that way.

There’s enough of a recovery going to keep prices fairly high. The recovery isn’t complete though and people have trouble qualifying for higher end houses they might have bought easily not long ago. That brings them down to my price range. My price range was always where I fit, but right now it’s also a fit for far too many other people. Since the fire, a house in my old neighborhood sold in week and another sold in days.

Almost everything has been just like that, longer, harder, more complicated…it’s really just a fairly standard renovation, with overdue maintenance and an unusually bad pet problem. The trips out of town have even actually helped. We have had time to assess how bad the problem is, how well different treatments have worked, do additional research and get some additional advice. If we had been left to do nothing but work on the house, we wouldn’t have done things as well as we have been able to. But, taking it all on at once has been pretty hard to swallow. It’s that we are trying to do as many things ourselves as we can combined with our little thrifty experiment.

Buying things second hand means getting them when you find them and storing them where you can. We are taking things over in small loads when we go to ease the moving burden, both in gas and in workload. Much of the stuff we have bought is “project” quality. We plan to transform it in some way before we use it. I’m pretty sure our new neighbors may be coming to think of us as the Clampett’s of Beverly Hills. First impressions being what they are… I’m joking of course. We’ve done a lot of yard work and they can tell that we are trying to take the worst house in the neighborhood and transform it into something better.

So there’s another day in the life… My goal for July: A house that we can move into, a writing schedule that’s regular, and enough aerobic exercise to keep my energy levels high and my stress levels low.

Closing a Door and Opening a Window

IMG_20140604_202753The first attempt to close on our house was put off for around a month while the seller got her paperwork in order. The second attempt was delayed because the seller’s moving van arrived just after we did for the final walk through appointment and the movers in it were greeted with “We don’t have enough boxes”. There were signs of packing since before we wrote the offer, but somehow that didn’t translate into finishing the job before either closing date. We gave her another three free days and took off for Memorial Day weekend. We had a nice but brief interlude with a night of primitive camping at a national seashore, a get together with one side of the family and a Memorial Day cookout with the other side. Refreshed and ready, (sort of) Tuesday it was time for the third attempt at closing. Would it be the charm or the strike out?

It was both. We did close, but it was not a happy day for me. The extent of the pet problem had been softened in my mind by the potential of the property and now I had to face the realities that the seller had not. A friend brought congratulatory flowers and surprisingly, they did not wilt on exposure to the house.

Tax records indicate that the seller bought the house as a foreclosure at a steal of a price, but I paid generously considering the condition and the contract said it was to be turned over clean. I didn’t expect spotless, there were too many renovations needed. But, I had mentioned my allergies to her agent in reference to the requirement since she was over the max HOA allowed number of pets and dozens of perfumed odor masking products were not equal to the task of making the place breathable. I break out in varying degrees of bright red welts on contact, so it’s not a euphemism or a cover for repulsion, comparatively small exposures have been known leave me swollen and tearful. We had plenty of cause to re-negotiate at both contract extensions, but I was tired of being unsettled and she (actually, her agent) knew it. I didn’t want to start over and wasn’t sure I had time to. We closed the deal, changed the locks and started to clean up the mess.

The problems were not small though. After leaving the house on the first day (when all we did was move trash off the carpet) I decided to wipe down my phone that had been sitting on the counter and hair came off in sheets like tissue paper.

During the actual final walk through I gave some clearly sentimental items to the agent for her seller and we put a 4-foot cat tree and some other things on the street and let her know they would stay till they were picked up, or till trash day. The seller never seemed to recognize the existence nor extent of her transgressions and she hasn’t stopped calling to ask for things that she didn’t actually leave behind.

The house wasn’t just covered with hair, dander, urine and even some dog food and cat litter, the seller unscrewed things like the bathroom mirror (an appurtenance, i.e. part of the house) while leaving things like a large box of spices. Things were strewn carelessly all over the house, mostly trash. She took appliances that were supposed to stay, even to the point of detaching those that were wired in under the kitchen cabinets, leaving the bare wires hanging. At the same time she left sacks of expensive toiletries. The consistency with which she took things that should have been left and left things that would cost her much more to replace (while costing us to dispose of) was pretty complete.

All that was distressing and I was uncharacteristically overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start and wanted to just leave, but I didn’t. I started to go through things and seek order. That’s when I found it, the thing that distressed me more than all the rest. It was basically a Molotov cocktail. What you see in the picture below is a 5-quart Pennziol jug full of oil (likely used, of unknown vintage) with a paper towel stuffed in the top, not happiness to find for a person who lost her last house to a fire. I took it out to the truck as soon as I photographed it and dropped it at Jiffy lube (the nearest oil change place) on the way home.
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I wonder at the risks and carelessness people carry through their lives and how they never seem to have the self awareness to realize that the consequences they experience (if any) were their own making. Made clear by looking at her trash, the seller had plenty of money for expensive luxuries, but she failed to protect her biggest assets. She “couldn’t afford” to treat for termites to avoid potential damage, even when I offered reimbursement for that treatment at closing. Still, as I sat across from her at the closing table, what she talked about most was wanting to visit to the Ritz-Carlton. She liked to tell hoteliers that it was her honeymoon to get free stuff. I’m sure she wanted to escape her mess (and it’s not lost on me where she’s getting the funds to make this potential escape), but her desires and her ethics heightened my frustration having just bought that same mess. Still, I didn’t have the expected difficulty sitting across from her at closing. I giess there were too many new frustrations to replace the old ones. I had a vision of some lower amoeba like form of life that indiscriminately consumes without thought or consideration. She called just now asking for something she thought was in an empty closet, after failing to come get any of the things that were left out for her. I didn’t share my thoughts and I’ll try not to think too much about her overstepping, inconsistencies and lack of manners as I clean her filthy house and catch up on her overdue maintenance. Thankful to be finally moving forward, I’m getting ready to wash the inside, from ceiling to basement and seal it with a fresh coat of clean.

Salvage Value

I’ve done a lot of renovation, but never by the IKEA method. IKEA designs by choosing the end price and making the features of the product fit inside. I’m pretty confident that I can get a good price and do things economically and well, but it’s a challenge to start with the end cost. I start with the finished product. Maybe not the entire product, but I start at the other end, none-the-less, and work on getting the best cost for the finished good. I think I’d be good at rehabbing properties well, but I wouldn’t cut cost corners and unfortunately most buyers don’t recognize that. So, while I’m sure that restoration could be my vocation, I’m not so sure that I could ever make a living at it.

With all this in mind, we took a big leap on closing day. I should say intended closing day, because the leap wasn’t in signing over the future for a house. There were paperwork problems that need to be overcome. We recouped some of our lost productivity for the day in deciding to salvage some knotty pine paneling and hardwood flooring from a house that will be demolished in Avondale Estates.

These salvage items will bring warm reminders of my grandparents back to my surroundings. My father’s parents had a beach cabin on an island near Alabama Point. It had thick old knotty pine paneling. The kitchen was separated from the living room by a bead curtain that I loved to walk through and beside it was a fish net on the wall filled with seashells. Some of the shells were exotic and they fascinated me. This is where I spent the lost summer of my youth. While I won’t be adding the beads and the island décor, it will be nice to have a comfortable reminder.

My mother’s parents had the antebellum home with the twelve-foot ceilings, French doors leading to the dining and living rooms, a long stately staircase and hardwood halls long enough to run through. That house means Christmas to me. Waking up cold to light the gas heaters that retrofitted all the bedroom fireplaces was a part of the winter morning ritual (Of course, my grandfather saved me from having to leave the bed covers cold by coming in early to light mine minutes before I got up. I still hope that someday I will have a home with solid wood doors and glass doorknobs.

How much of the past can we salvage to bring forward to warm our family future? We will see where this demo decision gets us. The cost of materials is very good, but it’ll be haul. Cost of tools, not just specialty tools but also ordinary tools lost in the fire, rental equipment, gas, time and meals that would have otherwise been eaten at home, all of these things factor in. Working after hours and on weekends takes its toll. I know that we will regret the decision before we like it. I don’t know how much regret or how much like there will be. At the very least, it’s better than wasting in front of TV and getting overheated while stacking some of this flooring has caused me to re-commit to loosing some much needed weight and getting back into better condition and I was able to identify some heart pine floors that were eventually saved because I knew what they were.

Replicate, Replace or Rebuild ?

After the twin towers came down, they didn’t try to replicate what had been before. It wasn’t appropriate, practical, fitting or even possible to put things back exactly as they had been. Yet when one takes out an insurance policy, that is the focus, to replace everything, to put things back precisely without change or loss. Marketing departments sell the idea that you could and should replicate what you had before because it’s comforting to believe it possible.

The idea doesn’t account for recognition that a life is built on a stack of decisions, and that starting anew doesn’t mean ending up in the same place that you were before. That is part of the reason that I chose not to rebuild on the same lot where my home had been. I hate the way people try to take advantage of insurance companies as well the people who have claims. Figuring things out to the letter and needing to rebuild my home, as the adjuster said, exactly “cookie cutter” the same as it was before was not something that seemed like a winning strategy. (Of course, I’m not sure the strategy I picked will turn out to be a winner either.)

Because the damaged brick walls of my house could collapse without warning, it was dangerous to enter the ruins after the fire. I won’t likely ever know if there were more salvageable things than the few we have. I value my life. At the same time, I wasn’t really so sure that everyone else saw things the same way and was never completely sure that other people didn’t go in.

IMAG0044With this in mind, I was in the thrift store nearest my house maybe two months after the fire and I was literally stunned by something I saw there. Before the fire, I had a poster from a castle in Japan. I bought it for the equivalent of three dollars, then hand carried it on both of the planes that brought me home. Uncharacteristically, I spent 100 dollars (even with a half price coupon) putting it in the perfect matte black frame with just the right raised gold design running through the middle. The frame really made it pop, so it was displayed in the family room and I enjoyed it immensely.

There in the thrift store was my poster. I noticed right away that the tone was a little darker and my immediate thought was smoke damage. I grabbed the poster and dropped my jaw. I stared into it and tried to imagine what smoke might have done and whether or not this could actually, in fact, be my poster. I was staring so deeply into the tones of the poster that it took me several seconds, maybe even a full minute, to realize that I could read the poster. The words on the poster were Romanji (English letters to be specific) not Kanji characters. This poster had been from a traveling exhibit that was in The National Gallery of Art in D. C. several years earlier than when mine had been printed and it was in a cheap plastic frame with a plastic protective sheet instead of the glass with sunscreen that was on my own, something else I should have noticed sooner. And this poster had the writing on a separate black space rather than on top of the artwork. There were really a lot of differences I should have seen instantly, but the surprise of seeing such an unexpected and unusual one of the items I had collected over the years had its effect. I shared my experience with a stranger there. I couldn’t tell if she was interested.

After settling down, I needed to decide whether or not to buy it as an addition to the piles of things I’m accumulating for the home I seek. I called Russ and asked him to recall the poster and if he liked it. Did he want to see its equivalent around again. It was $8. He said “Well, we like Japanese things. I’m sure we’re going to have them again. I’d say it’s your call.” It was a nice and generous response, but not effective in moving a decision forward.

I cloistered it in my cart and mulled while continued to shop. I knew that I would want to re-frame this poster because the frame added so much appeal to the other one. Eventually I photographed it and put it back. It would be half price the next day and I’d be driving by. As silly as it sounds to wait for half price when the frame would be so much pricier than its subject, that’s what I decided. It put an element of fate into things. As I was checking out, the lady with whom I had shared my story couldn’t believe I had not decided to buy it and I almost walked back to get it. The next day I forgot to check until late in the day. It was gone and I wasn’t disappointed. I guess it was the right decision.
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Last night I found a beautiful carved wood mask in a thrift store. I thought it was Japanese. It was similar to so many that I had seen while I was in Japan. I had shopped through several tourist spots intending to buy one, but they were fairly expensive and I never settled on the right one. Or, more exactly, once I knew which one was the right one for me, I wasn’t at that temple any more and I wasn’t able to go back. This mask was above the range of what I normally spend for something like it as a thrift store purchase, but it was still significantly less than I would have paid in Japan. It was also much less than I would have paid to frame the poster that I didn’t choose to replace.

I’ve accumulated a few masks since the fire and some of them are impressive. As it turns out my new mask is a Korean Hahoe mask. I hope that my new home has a good place for an eclectic collection of wall masks from places I’ve been and from places I’d like to go. I have a bit of a vision of what it might look like. I think I will like it.

Gone Man, Solid Gone

There’s this frozen instant in time when almost everything in the house is gone, sucked away. What exists afterward depends on what we were doing where it was happening, and inches apparently matter.

The cast iron pans that Russ was restoring in a lye bath outside were safe and orchids from the back deck survived, but the smoker beside them didn’t because it was too heavy and risky to move before it bent when the house fell. Two sterling silver Revere bowls in an upstairs closet were charred and misshapen. There was no apparent trace of whole categories of possessions, perhaps they were unrecognizable in the rubble. A miniature stained glass church I bought in an after Christmas clearance sale survived, perfectly preserved by a form fitting Styrofoam box that showed no signs of heat damage. It was stored near the part of the house that was apparently the hottest and it was among the least sentimental of those things it was stored with. The fire investigator told me there would be some things that would survive, but they wouldn’t be the things I wanted. He knew.

I have a firm grip on the importance of people and the comparative lack of importance of stuff, so getting through this with grace is at least in my ballpark. But still, I loved my stuff and I feel an affinity with Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” when she finds out she has suddenly gone from unimaginably wealthy to bankrupt. She whines with a pouty face “It’s not the money, it’s the Stuuuuf”. I had good stuff. I’ve been collecting it for a long time, waiting for a good price, getting the stuff that is well made, the stuff that is built to last… under normal conditions that is.

Just before the fire, one of those great truisms showed up on my Facebook feed. It said “You can’t control what happens to you, just how you respond to it.” I hope to take that to heart.

One of the things about our thrifting experiment, sometimes in the second hand places you can find that solid stuff built well and made sturdy, that stuff I admire and respect. Our little experiment will be very time intensive, but given that money and time are both limited resources, it seems that splitting them up and using balanced amounts of each is the most likely way to rebuild well on a budget.

We have decided on rules for our thrifty rebuild. We want to get as much as we can from thrift and estate sales, but there are some things that we want to purchase new.

We have a list of things that we will buy new. We may buy other things new as well. For instance, the mixer I had nor the mixer I wanted was on the second hand prohibited list, but we didn’t find one in the time frame we wanted. Here is our list of things that we will buy new, not second hand.

Mattresses

Upholstered Furniture (unless we think re-upholstering is practical)

Any other difficult-to-clean thing that could have animal dander, mites or bedbugs

Plastic Food Storage Containers (Chemicals can bond and we don’t know how they might have been used)

Plastic or Wood Food Utensils (same)

Undergarments

Shoes

The list is based on cleanliness and the ability to transfer anything harmful. There’s also a bit of the personal ick factor. Undergarments could be cleaned, I just don’t want any second hand. Fungicide can be applied to shoes, I just don’t want to use or trust it. The list may grow or have exceptions, but they will remain based on known ability to transfer harm or what ever we personally find unappealing.

Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.