Atonement

Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year: the crisp air, the vibrant colors, the beginning of school. To me, this is the season when the new year truly begins.

In Judaism, we celebrate our new year in the autumn with Rosh Hashana, followed ten days later with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The ten days between the two holy days are called t’shuvah, the days of repentance. It is a time for reflection and resolutions when necessary. It is a time to ask for and to offer forgiveness. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, God makes the final judgement and seals the Book of Life, hopefully with your name written within its pages, granting forgiveness.

While I have never been truly religious, I am deeply spiritual. I do find the prayers and psalms of synagogue peaceful, beautiful, and full of sentimental memories from my childhood, yet I have always preferred one on one time in nature more helpful in providing clarity or allowing me to find a new path, previously unseen.

However, over the last six years, since the fire and subsequent issues that arose from the ashes, my path has been tumultuous, at best.

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Memories 

Sometimes I honestly forget that anything of real value was salvaged after the fire because the loss was so vast and complete and it left such an immense void. But occasionally I come across a rare gem that has been stored in a bag of memories to be sorted and put into albums, later.

I know it’s been 6 years, which is plenty of time to get organized. But truthfully, it hasn’t been a priority. I don’t want to glorify being busy, but with 3 kids in various activities, life is actually pretty busy. {Also, I’m more than a bit lazy.} 

Plus, and not to dwell, there’s still a faint burnt smell looming on those pages that brings on tears like waterfalls when it wafts into the air. So I keep those memories in a bag in the corner of my office space, unless I really need something.

The other day, I needed pictures of the kids to use as personal thank you notes. I’ve been meaning to order more for some time but again, it hasn’t been a priority for my schedule or our budget, if I’m being totally honest. 

Anyway, as I was searching for the picture-perfect pictures, I came across a poem and rediscovering it could not have been more timely with our 10 year anniversary approaching, and deeply needed after the trying year we’ve had getting Jordyn through third grade. 

When I first began teaching preschool, my principal required teachers to send home weekly letters to parents about upcoming projects or important dates. As I moved into elementary school, my new principal required the same, along with an academic and behavioral update for each student. 

I continued this communication at each school I taught in, in what I called the “Friday Folder” and my weekly newsletters evolved into poems to keep it interesting. It was something parents and students enjoyed and appreciated, and frankly, I loved writing them.

Right before we married, my first grade class threw me a surprise wedding shower. One mother presented me with a beautiful shadow box, complete with our invitation which was, of course, a poem. 

Photo credit: Clair Pruett Studio

On the back, my student had written his own poem, mimicking my Friday Folder. Although the shadow box was lost in the fire, a copy of his poem was miraculously saved and rereading it brought on the realization that it’s time I get back in the classroom. 

To learn that you have made a positive difference in a child’s life by partnering with parents in education is truly fulfilling.

After being home with my own children for the past 8 years, I am looking forward to returning to the classroom within the next few. 

Rosa Regale

Years ago, before marriage and children, Brian and I spent my winter breaks visiting Disney World. It was an ideal time for me, as a teacher, and we didn’t mind the waits and crowds as it was just the two of us.

Our first year together, we discovered the Italian champagne, Rosa Regale, in Italy, Epcot. It was love at first taste for me. It’s  a deliciously sweet dessert champagne that tastes of bubbly raspberry. I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

Rosa Regale soon became our New Years champagne of choice. Sure, we had it on other special occasions, but it always meant more on New Years, long after we stopped our annual Disney trips. 

After the fire, Brian purchased a bottle to be opened, once everything was settled. It sat, unopened, gathering dust in the cabinet of the 3 rental units we were placed in. We moved it to my parents’ house when our claim was denied and they took us in for 18 months. We then took it to Brian’s parents house when we moved in with them, before Jordyn began kindergarten. It gathered more dust with each move and sat unopened in the back of a cabinet for another 20 months. After 4 years, we finally opened it in May of 2015 when we moved into our own house, with so much and yet so little to celebrate. 

Tonight, we opened a new bottle with the hope that 2017 will bring closure to this seemingly never ending purgatory. 

We begin this year with gratitude for those who continue to support us, a love for each other that has withstood more hardships than most, the knowledge that we are stronger together, the courage to keep moving forward, and the attitude to truly appreciate the little things in life. 

Here’s to a new year. May it be filled with sweet happiness for us all. 

The Same Moon

Lady J has an Israeli pen-pal through a wonderful program called The Same Moon, set up by our former religious school.  She has spent the year writing back and forth with her pen pal in preassigned topics.  We spend time discussing each topic and what she wants to say before and she dictates the letter as I type.  Last month’s topic was “good deeds.” Below is the letter she composed.  There are no words for the simultaneous pride and heartache I feel:

“It was so nice to talk to you last week on Skype! What time was it in Israel when we talked?  My mom said it was close to dinner time.  It was still morning where I was.  My little sister always gets excited when tomorrow becomes today.  I guess in Israel my today is your yesterday, at least for part of the day.  Is that confusing?  It confuses me too. My mom calls me a philosopher.  I don’t know what that means.

When is your birthday?  My birthday is in the summer.  I think I want to have a sleepover party for my birthday.  But this year, instead of getting gifts from my friends, I want to collect sleeping bag-coats for homeless people. They’re called “The EMPWR Coat” and it’s a coat that turns into a sleeping bag for night time and then a bag on days when you don’t need a warm coat.  It looks really cool and can help save lives. I learned about it after I told my idea to collect sleeping bags for homeless people to my mom.  She showed me the website http://www.empowermentplan.org and I knew I had to try to give as many coats as I could.  My mom says that’s a Mitzvah.

I try to help homeless people out whenever I can.  One time, I saw a homeless man and asked my parents if we could give him some food.  He looked so lonely and hungry.  I bought him a blueberry muffin, a banana, and some water.  I wish I could do more.

Sometimes I run with my mom, too.  When she runs, she uses an app on her phone that’s called Charity Miles.  We choose a charity to run for and for each mile we run, some money gets donated.  We usually run for Back on My Feet, because they help the homeless too.

A few years ago, our house caught fire.  I don’t remember that much but I know it was really scary.  Sometimes I remember the house but only bits and pieces.  After the fire, we had to live with my mom’s parents for a little while and then my dad’s parents too.  We finally bought a new house this year, but we were really lucky we had our family to help us before that.  I guess I just want to help the people who don’t have family to take care of them, the people who don’t have homes.

Another thing I do with my family is donating things we don’t use anymore.  We go through our toys, clothes, and books every few months and decide what needs to be recycled, handed down, or donated to those in need.  I’m glad I can help.

Other ways I try to do Mitzvot are just by being a good leader and doing the right thing.  In school we learn about the 7 habits and I try to follow them. I’ve won a few “Leader In Me” awards. In Hebrew School, it’s called Mench of the Month. I won a few of them too.  I just try to follow the rules, try my best, and treat other people nicely.  It seems to be working so I guess I’ll stick to this plan.

I can’t wait to get your next letter!  Maybe we can FaceTime with each other sometime.  That would be cool.”

IALAC

A few months ago, as I got the kids ready for bed, we stepped out onto the balcony of my parent’s beach condo to read bedtime stories. We gazed out towards the sea and saw participants of the Challenge Atlantic City full triathlon still making their way down the boardwalk. Some were happily trotting along while others were clearly struggling toward thd end of this massive accomplishment. I began clapping and cheering, “You got this!” breaking the serenity of the Sunday evening hush of waves.

Some racers looked around, confused as to where my voice was emanating from, while others pumped their arms up, perhaps in gratitude, cheering for themselves and their mysterious fans. Some continued trudging along, while others added some bounce and speed to their steps.

The kids became excited and joined in, questioning each passer-by, “Is that a racer, Momma? That one? Go! Go! Go! You can do it! Finish strong! Finish proud! You totally got this! You’re awesome! Go! Go! Go!”

It didn’t take long for me to get choked up, a mix of parental pride at the kid’s overt enthusiasm and sincerely decent spirit towards others, and knowing exactly the point in this journey that each runner felt, be it “I can do this!” or “I’m ready to throw the towel in.” “I need help.” “Almost there!” “I’m done.” “I think I can.” and even, “No. I can’t.”

The children were concerned about my tears so I explained that I am both very proud of them for showing support and cheering others on when they need it most, and that I know how those athletes feel at this point of their race because I am at that same point. I have been there for what has both seemingly and actually has been years. In fact, I think we’ve all been THERE, regardless of whatever journey you’re “racing” in…

An old friend and camp counselor used to share a story about a girl with an invisible IALAC sign. I Am Lovable And Capable. The story goes that the girl’s sign tears throughout the day as some things go wrong or she is insulted. Some tears are barely visible, while others rip the sign in half or even shred it to near pulp. Yet the sign is said to regenerate each night so the girl can begin each day refreshed and ready to take on life.

In school, as part of an anti-bullying campaign, Lady J and Bud are learning about bucket fillers and bucket dippers. The basic idea is that we each carry imaginary buckets. You can choose to fill other’s buckets through compliments, acts of kindness, and inclusion and in doing so, your own bucket fills. Or you can dip someone’s bucket with insults, physical harm, or exclusion, which will also dip yours.

Well, something that my Facebook feed won’t tell you, is that my IALAC sign is shredded and has a really hard time regenerating to full strength overnight but it’s still hanging “pinky strong”, and although my bucket feels half empty many days, other days it feels half full and it often fills and flows over the brim.

So I think I’ll be ok. This part of my journey is just really, really hard.

I’m at the part of the race when you think, hope, and pray that the finish line is nearing, while most onlookers have packed it in and the cheers have almost become silent. The day is nearing an end and they have their own lives to live. This is the part when Fight Song, Carry On, Try, Stronger, Defying Gravity, Final Countdown, We’re Not Gonna Take It, Mahna Mahna,  and Paul Revere {because Muppets and Beastie Boys…} are on constant repeat on my internal play list and I dig deep to fill my own bucket and tape the shredded pieces of my sign back together.

And through the taped up tears in my sign and holes in my bucket, I still do my best to not only treat others as I want to be treated, but to instill that practice into my children because it’s that important and that simple.

So we stood there, the children and I, cheering the racers on from the balcony as the sun began its descent, trying to help others strengthen their IALAC signs and hoping to fill their buckets, knowing that mine will be just fine…

A Borrowed Life

One morning last week I woke to a rainy day. As I prepared for the day, I thought about grabbing my raincoat out of our meager closet. It was 10 minutes later that I remembered I don’t have a raincoat. I haven’t had one for almost 4 years. A raincoat hasn’t been on the list of pertinent replacement items because I’ve been able to get by with so much less, materially speaking. (Not that we are wanting for anything.) I’ve thought about getting a new raincoat on several occasions, and perhaps boots to match, but haven’t gotten around to it, and it’s honestly been fine. It’s one of those needs that’s really just a want. I’ve gotten really good at deciphering the difference over the past 4 years. {Although Brian would argue that I still need to work on that particular skill.}

But the question that resonated in my head throughout that day was: Why did I even think I still had a raincoat? I haven’t had a raincoat for 4 YEARS…

Yes, it has been almost 4 years since that horrific morning when our house and lives literally went up in flames. When I ran like hell, carrying Lady J and Bud in my arms and K-Mad in my belly.

The past 4 years have kept us in a holding pattern, unable to move forward, yet life has somehow gone on…


We spent the first 13 weeks at my in-law’s in Pennsylvania waiting to be placed in a “comparable” rental unit as my belly grew full with K-Mad. We replaced next to nothing in our wardrobes, using mainly donations, which were ample in generosity yet not quite the right fit. But we made it work, with sincere gratitude and honest appreciation.

Brian and I shared his childhood bedroom with Lady J. We slept on the full-sized bed while she used an aero mattress. Bud had the third bedroom and a crib all to himself. We kept most of our clothes in donated bins, shared my in-laws bathroom, and ate baked ziti that had been generously donated by friends of friends at least 4 times each week for dinner.

I don’t think I changed a single diaper of Bud’s or bathed the kids for an entire week as mother-in-law took care of my duties as a mother that first week because I was in shock.

My husband and my father-in-law drove back to our home several times in the first few weeks, searching for anything salvageable. There was next to nothing, but they did manage to save our important documents, pictures and yearbooks that were stored in our garage, our wedding album, and my jewelry box, which housed the pearls my grandparents gave to me when I became a Bat Mitzvah. Pictures and memories really are worth more than a thousand words…


I only went back to our home once, to meet with insurance about one week or so after the fire. I was talking on my phone with my sister when we pulled up in the driveway and immediately had to hang up, tears streaming down my cheeks like a river at the mere sight of our forever home:

Our office furniture was strewn on the front lawn. Bud’s bedroom toys and monitor lay on the ground and in the tree outside his window, pushed out, I’m guessing, by the water force of the fire hoses.  Our swing set was undamaged, but encircled with yellow “caution” tape.

Inside, a plastic toy teacup and saucer sat on our kitchen table, surprisingly uncharred. It was a rare sight to behold, like the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List, the cup and saucer struck me as off yet still a welcomed brightness amongst the darkness.

Our dining room table balanced half in the dining room and half in the basement where the floor had given out. The living room was a mound of wet and ashen furniture, memorabilia, coats, shoes, and our DVD collection. The plasma television lay facing down and the skylights in our vaulted cathedral ceilings were opened up to the sky and all of her elements.

In the basement our laundry was still wet in the washing machine and the center wall that divided the basement was gone, as though it never existed. From where the exterior basement door used to stand, you could see straight up to the where the guest room, cleaning closet, and hallway once were, and up even further into our bathroom on the second floor.

The second floor, which included our bedrooms as well as the playroom in the back of the first floor were not accessible. It’s probably best that I didn’t see them.

After that day, just about the only other times I went back to New Jersey that summer were for monthly doctor appointments for my pregnancy and for an occasional play date with friends.


At the end of the summer we finally gave in to insurance and settled for a very incomparable rental apartment, eager to get back to New Jersey. The apartment complex was about 30 minutes from our old neighborhood and our life: Lady J’s preschool, our playground, our grocery store…But we were desperate…

I was 30 weeks along when I arrived with an SUV loaded with 2 toddlers and heavy boxes. Building management was clearly unimpressed with the presence of my children, whom I had just woken up from napping in the car, and was of no help since they had no record of our rental approval. It turned out that the unit was rented by insurance via a relocation agency in California. {Did I mention we were in New Jersey?}

With nothing but minimal emailed instructions on where to find the lockbox with a unit key, we waddled around the buildings until I found the hidden treasure chest and golden keys on the far side of the pool, behind the secret gate, near the garden. {It was like my own children’s classic from hell that I was living.}

The Kids and I returned to the car and drove around the complex, no less than 3 times, searching for the unlabeled assigned building. The door closest to our unit was the farthest door towards the back corner of the premises and looked more like a service entrance. I gave the keys a try anyway and saw the 2 flights of stairs leading up to our unit’s floor, somehow missing the access door to the garage, a half flight down, to where the elevator was housed. I unloaded the kids and boxes and carried them all in, and up the 2 flights of stairs, one at a time. {Fortunately, I did not go into labor.}

{In full disclosure: Brian would have been there to help, and did tell me to wait, but he had already used most of his days during the last 13 weeks. I needed to get back to our life and get organized, so I chose not to wait for him or for help.}


The first week we were there I experienced my first Earthquake. It was minimal at best, but shook me to my core. It was during nap time and Lady J came screaming from her room, afraid that the big bad wolf was trying to break her new apartment too. I dried her eyes, soothed her fears, put her back in bed, and called Brian in tears.

A few days later, Hurricane Irene was heading our way. Brian had to stay in the city as part of his company’s critical staff, so I packed up the kids and headed to my parent’s for the weekend, not wanting to be alone with the kids during a potential disaster.

After our return, we spent 2 weeks in that apartment. During those 2 weeks we took 3 trips to the pediatrician and I made about a hundred phone calls to the building maintenance, management, and subsequently the relocation company. After several back and forths and filing complaints, mold was discovered in the children’s bedroom and “they” finally agreed to move us to an {even smaller} vacant apartment. This time, maintenance staff and the elevator were there to help me move one more flight upstairs.

Everything in the apartments were rented from the dishes to the sheets. Nothing was our own and it felt that way. You don’t know how important your chef knife is until you try to cut vegetables for a salad with a borrowed one. You don’t realize how often you use a pizza slicer to quickly cut all types of food into toddler sized bites until you reach for it in the drawer and realize you don’t have one.


We lived in that 2 bedroom apartment for 4 months, and had a slew of {not-so} typical maintenance issues ranging from the bathtub handle being installed backwards so the hot was cold and the cold was hot to the front door lip missing so that nails were pointing up making for a tricky first step inside, especially for little legs. {Side note: maintenance was called no less than 3 times for the hot water issue, assuring me that everything was working correctly until they finally realized that they never told me to use the handle backwards. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that as a solution to the problem? #facepalm}

I eventually realized that I could use the elevator, if I could maneuver the double stroller full of 2 toddlers and groceries down a half-flight of stairs instead of up 3 flights. It was a luxury when the garage door was left opened so that I could zip right down the driveway ramp with the stroller instead of using the stairs. {It’s the little things, people.}

Another “favorite” memory of mine was the dog owners that allowed their dogs to use our main {service} entrance way as their bathroom, instead of walking the 20 feet to the fenced in dog park on the premises…and then not clean up afterwards…It made for an interesting {frustrating} obstacle course for the kids and their very pregnant mother. {American Ninja Warrior pales in comparison. #eeewww}

One cold Friday night, a rebellious teenager flipped the building’s fire alarm and we had to evacuate. It was 11pm and I had to wake Brian and the kids, and grab the diaper bag and anything I knew they could not part with for a second time, like pacifiers, sippy cups, and SHOES. I managed to keep it together as we sat in our car, kids buckled, ready to flee to safety and family while Lady J cried, asking why the fire alarm was sounding. Fear practically paralyzed her as her eyes searched for an unseen fire, her memory no doubt producing vivid visions of the only nightmare she’s ever experienced. I lost it after we were given the all clear to go back inside, crumbling to the kitchen floor once we finally got the kids back to sleep, tucked safely in OUR bed. {I kept a “weekend to-go” bag packed in my trunk for months after that night.}

Our “neighbor” downstairs complained about that the kids were too loud too early on the morning I went into labor with K-Mad. I’ll admit it was early, 3am early, and my water had broken.  Lady J, who had been asleep on our bedroom floor, followed me into the bathroom. {Yes, my water broke over the toilet because that’s how I roll…if you know me, then you know.} Lady J was more than excited when I told her to go wake up Daddy because the baby was coming and she bounded like a cheetah across the living room to our bedroom to enthusiastically share the news.

After we returned from the hospital the next day, I wrote an apology to the nice elderly lady and she responded with a nasty letter about my parenting skills or lack thereof. We also received a formal complaint made by her to the building management. I called our realtor that day to begin the search for a rental house, since insurance refused to was of no help by this point.

After we enlisted our own realtor, we were able to actually find a comparable house to rent 3 weeks after K-Mad was born.

Upon “checkout” we were sent a cable bill for over $300. When I called the cable company to inquire about the charges I was informed that with the exception of a few Disney movies that I knew about, all of the other rentals were for pornographic films. The whole conversation was infuriatingly preposterous and we finally just paid the false charges because we just wanted to be rid of that horrid complex. {(Not) surprisingly, we have not had any pornographic rental issues since then… Doubtful that’s a coincidence…}


We moved into the rental house in mid-December 2011 and life was starting to feel somewhat normal again for the first time in 7 months. We were back in our neck of the woods. We had privacy. We had space. We had company over and play dates, and a yard to play in…

Unfortunately, 2 months later, our claim was denied outright and I moved with the kids to my parent’s near Wilmington, Delaware, while my husband stayed in New Jersey with dear friends during the week for commuting purposes.

While we were trying to decide where to move, my parent’s or back to my in-law’s, someone suggested that I go back to work full time so that we could stay in the rental house instead of burdening our parents and possibly separating the family. But the reality was that we were still paying mortgage on our destroyed home. Paying both a mortgage and rent was not financially feasible. Not to mention that the children were 3, 2, and newborn. As a teacher, it would have cost MORE than my annual salary to have the children in full time child care, let alone help with the cost of living. It simply wasn’t an option, regardless of the well intentioned suggestion. So we decided to move to my parent’s, in hopes that our case would be settled quickly.


My parent’s made space for us and prepared our rooms. Lady J slept in the guest room, Bud in the office, and K-Mad and I shared the basement suite.

During our stay, my mother helped enroll Lady J and Bud to attend preschool in a facility connected to her office. {Seriously, it’s her office. She’s the amazing executive director that has turned a small non-profit into a flourishing and indispensable community service provider. My mom rocks!}

The first day of school I hung around the area, since it was (practically) Bud’s first day of not being with me, ever, and drop off was hard on both of us. I stopped by my mother’s office with K-Mad about an hour into the 2.5 hour morning and she told me to go pick up the kids immediately. It seemed that there was to be a facility wide fire drill in 10 minutes, that she was luckily informed of, due to her position.

My mom called the school director while I hurried over to the school side of the building, wiping the tears and pushing fears aside: What will this do my children? How will they react? Will this ever end? Will the fire have long term effects on them?

Lady J, Bud, and I stood in the parking lot and watched and listened as the building and their new friends safely evacuated. They were both scared and Lady J asked several worried questions. I explained how and why it’s important to practice safely evacuating a building in case of an emergency while I hid more tears behind sunglasses as soon as the sirens began to blare. Lady J bravely returned to her class to finish the morning.


For 18 months we only saw Daddy on the weekends. My parents made it a point to go away on weekends to give us private family time. We hired a babysitter and had date night almost every Saturday night during those months. It was a luxury that we could not afford not to do.

My parents also gifted us family memberships to local museums and horticultural centers so that I had places to take the children, as I had few friends in the area and wasn’t ready to regrow roots. We spent many-a-day exploring the meadow and conservatory at Longwood Gardens, frolicking in The Enchanted Woods at Winterthur, climbing at the Delaware Children’s Museum, and learning at the Delaware Natural History Museum.

When the kids were off of school we visited our friends at “Daddy’s home” and made the most of it, grateful to have such incredible people (and puppies) in our lives.


But a few months after moving to my parents, I was indicted…yes, you read that correctly. It’s been whispered in hushed voices of trusted circles of friends and family for almost 3 years, but I’m saying it out loud now.

I was indicted for 2nd degree aggravated arson, 3 weeks after we filed our lawsuit against insurance and over one year from the date of the event.

I haven’t kept tabs of who knows or if anyone really understands exactly what this truly entails and honestly means. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a secret, and it’s probably a matter of public record. But it’s also not something I discuss openly and especially freely, as anything I say…well, you know the rest, although I have yet to be read my Miranda Rights.

My only reason for mentioning it aloud now is that it is simply a fact of our whole reality. It’s the one piece that keeps us at bay, unable to move forward, as though we are handcuffed in time. This is happening and we are dealing with it, some days better than others, always with an incredible support network.

I will not discuss anything further, for obvious reasons, except to say that I am innocent and disgusted with both our law enforcement and legal system. (Also, your pity is not welcomed but support is always appreciated.)

After the indictment was handed down, our lawsuit against insurance was stayed, pending the outcome of the criminal case. We are still awaiting trial…for both matters…


That fall, Hurricane Sandy pummeled  New Jersey and New York, and I was a wreck. I could not watch the news and see the devastation she had left in her wake. I knew and felt exactly how her victims felt and was angrivated by the stories of insurance companies using loopholes to decrease or avoid payments on claims. I donated as many items as we could, having little to give, and made sure everything donated was in impeccable condition, knowing first hand that “the thought” is not the only thing that counts.


In addition to the indictment and civil law suit, soon after we moved to my parent’s, the town began threatening us in regards to the condition of our house which was barely standing, especially after Sandy. The town’s threats included fines and the possibility of jail for my husband. We reluctantly acquiesced to the town’s demands by demolishing the house first and selling the property after the demolition, as per their instructions. We were actually refused permission to sell before the demolition so we had to acquire permits and pay out of pocket for the teardown. It was finally all settled and we sold the property on April 19, 2013, almost 2 years after the fire. Hopes of ever returning home were destroyed that day…


After 18 months of living with my parents, Lady J was gearing up for kindergarten and a trial date was set for December, 2013.  We decided to move to my in-law’s home at the end of the summer to reconnect our family and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We did not want to uproot the children mid school year, in case things went poorly.

We have been living here, in my in-law’s basement for 20 months, and the trial has been postponed at least 3 times.

The reality is that Brian is able to commute from here, although it is 3 hours door to door EACH WAY, but at least we are together. This town is not anywhere I would ever choose to live, but in living here I have made wonderful friends and have experienced a welcoming community that offers a great deal of activities and opportunities for families. Yet, as wonderful as it is and as helpful as they are, let’s be realistic, at the end of the day, I live with my in-laws…in their basement…enough said…


There are so many things to be grateful for, over these last 4 years. We have been able to maintain status quo as far as providing for our children with both needs and experiences, and a bit of wants as well.

Our families have both opened their homes to us and made room where possible. They share their space and time with us, giving our children care and an incredible opportunity to really know their grandparents. It has given me opportunities to get everyday things done that would normally be much more difficult balancing the kids and their schedules. There are no words I can express that could do true justice to such a gift.

Our friends have been more than supportive in their understanding and care. Their patience to stand along side us has made us feel like a forest surrounds us, sheltering us, as we try to find a place for our roots to take hold and grow. I am overwhelmed with gratitude by their steadfast and true hearts.

Yet through it all, we have been unable to move forward. Stagnant in purgatory, unable to plan a possible future nor live in the present as our past is our daily nightmare. We are reliant on everyday items that are not our own. Not able to replace what was ours for both lack of space and lack of knowledge of what’s to come…waiting… Just. Waiting…


But now, almost 4 years after “The Event” we are taking a giant step in moving forward:

Brian is buying a house just in time for Mother’s Day and his birthday. If all goes well, we will painting, carpeting, and assembling furniture for the next week and officially move in around May 20, 2015, exactly 4 years to the day…

It is symbolic and emotional and exciting and will hopefully be a jumping off point for all good things to come for the rest of our lives. It is the only way for us to show and maintain our strength and resolve to keep moving forward.

This move is something to celebrate, although we are not ready to celebrate as it is also laced with more than a hint of bitter-sweetness. Our case continues and the future is still unknown.

We are moving on without anything to move in.


I am overwhelmed thinking about replacing basic needs, as we have no idea what those are yet, other than a few items we’ve made a priority. The few people we have told about the house have been more than generous and ask, “What do you need?” and I can only stare blankly.

Everything?

Nothing?


I walked into Bed Bath and Beyond followed by IKEA a few days after our offer was accepted, just to look around, and both were too much. My take away was that we needed the whole store, but I settled for a pizza-slicer and dust-pan & broom combination knowing that we’d be eating pizza at least a few nights this week and someone will probably break something during the move… It was daunting and exhausting. It’s quite the opposite of the excited wedding registry feelings I had 8 years ago.

I get nauseous when people ask, “Will you register? Will you have a shower or house-warming party?”

No.

Truth be told, this house is what we need, but not what we want. This is not our forever home. These are not our forever neighbors. This is not our forever town. This is not our forever life. This is our “for now” until we can celebrate our “happily ever after.”

We simply don’t know when or where that will be…


Like most people, we are making lists and planning for priorities. But so far, every thing is a priority because we’re not replacing…there’s nothing to replace…nothing to build from…nothing…no thing…Not. One. Single. Thing… And I’m having a hard time asking for and accepting anything. I think it’s tacky to ask for help. We should be able to afford this on our own. And we can…just maybe not all at once…

The reality is that I want to get only what we need and just send the receipt to insurance with a note that reads, “Here’s to being the responsible company. Time to help us on our own come back trail…assholes. Also, please remove us from your mass mailings and emails. Are you certain you want MY feed back? Have you no fucking shame?” But cursing isn’t really my writing style and we’re SO VERY far beyond that anyway.

 

 

 

 


I think it’s horrible that for the most part, I don’t want hand-me-downs. It’s a truly deep and internal struggle for me, that sounds so unbelievably superficial. How can I refuse any help being offered, especially in light of recent global events? I thought I was better than that.

There are a few people who have been saving items for us, that we will gladly accept, but I’m not looking for left-overs. You can judge and label me with words like greedy, materialistic, or ungrateful, but I do have my reasons:

Right after the fire there was an outpouring of support and donations. I remember going through bags and boxes of clothes and toys. It was beyond generous, so much so, that I had to donate most of what was received. Not that we didn’t appreciate it, but Bud didn’t need 20 pairs of size 2t khaki shorts…so we graciously accepted what we needed, and donated or returned the rest.

We were offered furniture and mattresses. But we had no where to put them. No space of our own. So we politely declined the thoughtfulness with reluctance, having no idea what was in store nor how long it would take.

We also received a few items that should NEVER have been donated. Torn and stained clothing, broken toys…I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is to tell your kids that the toy they just received (as a gift) was given to them broken or incomplete. They already had a whole house of unsalvagable toys. They cried… And then we cried…

So, no, I’m not looking for handouts, left-overs or hand-me-downs. I don’t need 25 pizza slicers, mismatched couches, or wobbly chairs. I only want what we need, I want to like it, and I want it to work. I want it to fit US and to be OURS. I don’t want to borrow anything, regardless of return policies.

We have already ordered appliances, couches, and minimal furniture needs. Paint colors have been selected and the bedroom carpets will be replaced next week. It’s exciting.  But that’s about as far as we’ve gotten as I’m still struggling with daily needs and isles and isles of all things “house and home.”

The  other truth is that we also have no idea what we need. We won’t honestly know until we move in, get settled, and start living. I’m guessing I’ll be going to Bed Bath and Beyond almost daily for the first month, just filling in items I didn’t know I needed, items I didn’t realize were missing.  {So please send any of your 20% off coupons you’ve been hoarding saving that you can spare. 😉}

It sounds like such a “first world problem.” And it is…But it’s SO MUCH MORE…


I wrote the following “chapter” 6 months ago and never shared it because it all just sounds so repetitive. So redundant. So whiny and almost snobby when you don’t know the reality of the situation, in its entirety. “You still don’t have a place?” People innocently inquire, “You’re still waiting? What’s the hold up?” Well, now you know:

“November 18, 2014:

It was just the two of us sitting at lunch. Brian had taken the day off so he could attend Breakfast with Dad at Lady J’s school. We dropped Bud and K-Mad off at school and I ditched my class at the gym so we could run some errands together. We were sitting at the restaurant’s bar, enjoying a beautifully presented lunch with a mediocre taste. There were mere minutes left of our solitude before we needed to pick the kids up from school when he posed a question that squelched my appetite into oblivion and rushed me from my seat before the tears overtly began streaming down.

“When this is all over, what would you want to replace first?”

Brian is a planner. He lists out our needs and wants, prioritizes them, and saves accordingly. His question was not emotional. It was just his way of planning. Bud had needed a new snow suit so we took care of that today. Next on the list is a bed for K-Mad as she has nearly outgrown her toddler bed. After that will be the holidays…the list goes on, and he plans, saves, and repeats. It’s quite efficient, really.

But this question. This planning. This notion of picking just one thing to replace…

For the last 3 and a half years we have gotten only the bare essentials, with very few “replacement” items. Our wardrobes are minimalistic at best and just about everything we use in the house is not ours, including the house itself.

We have a few donated items in storage that we have no use for at this time, as we live in a house with a fully furnished kitchen. Yet the dishes, pots and pans in storage are not OURS. We did not go to the store and choose them ourselves. In fact, going to home stores is still quite emotional for me.

We live a borrowed life, even if we never have to return what was given.

So what would I replace first?

Maybe the dining room table that I inherited from my grandparents where I spent every Shabbat of my youth with family. The Shabbat table that we were making new memories around with my own family now. How do you replace a family heirloom with so much history and future?

 

Perhaps the fine china we received for our marriage that I used to set the table just once. I remember spending hours carefully choosing the pattern, flatware and stemware to match.  I could not wait to host family and friends for holidays, dinner parties, and game nights, filling bellies with home cooked deliciousness and building our own history, traditions and memories upon mere plates. I believe that the pattern has been retired. How can you replace something from nothing?

What about Lady J’s bedroom furniture, that was once mine when I was a child. A one of a kind set with a hand painted rainbow of style that grew up with me. She was just as excited to see her “new-again” big girl room when we finished the upstairs of our house to make way for Bud, as I had been the day I came home from sleep over camp when I was nine. Plus, there was the hand stitched blanket that matched perfectly and hung as a tapestry above her bed, made with love by my aunt to celebrate her birth… How do you replace that excitement and love?


     

Perhaps my wedding gown, preserved and stored so that one day I may be able to let my girls wear it, or use a piece as their something borrowed…

   

Or the shadow boxes that housed our uniquely poetic wedding invitation. One shadow box was made by my sister and the otheIMG_8990r by a former student’s mother who included her own poem on the back, mimicking the Friday Folder Poems I sent home each week to keep parents informed…



 

My baby album that my mother wrote in so that I could read about my own childhood anecdotes, or the pre-digital baby photo album filled with memories of my childhood…

The personalized burp clothes and receiving blankets given as gifts for Lady J & Bud…

Or my silken personalized Talit, given to me by my parents when I became a Bat Mitzvah…

My teaching portfolio, resume, and accumulation of materials, resources, lesson plans, Friday-Folder poems, projects, and books that took hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to build up…

The picture that hung in our bedroom I had painted for Brian’s 27th birthday, just before we moved from Northern Virginia to North Jersey. It was a symbolic gesture that this move wasn’t just in location, but in where we were heading together… “Can I just have just one more moon dance with you, my love?”

My replacement list could probably go on forever…

How about the last THREE and a HALF YEARS? How do you replace that?  I’m not talking about the new memories we’ve made, the laughter, the help, and family and friends. We’re doing alright there, in fact, better than alright. We’re down right fortunate and not a day goes by that I am not eternally and honestly grateful for all that we do not need to replace.

But I’m talking about the doubt, the unknowing, the loneliness, the dependency…the borrowed life…how do you replace that?

So what would I replace first?

How bout we start with just a house, so we can rebuild our home…”

And so we are…

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I feel excited. I feel bitter. I am elated. I am pissed. I am damn good at finding the funny and putting my best foot forward. I am a wreck on the inside. I am as strong as a great oak. I am scared out of my mind. I am a fighter. I am aware that these very words can somehow be twisted and mangled and and taken out of context to be used against me in our completely unjust legal system. I refuse to back down. I am asking for your support. I don’t need a thing. I am a Phoenix rising from the ashes…

But most of all, I am honestly looking forward to not living in someone else’s basement for the first time in almost 4 years and no longer living a borrowed life…

The Closing: April 19, 2013

Lao Tzu wrote, “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

Today, we closed on our property. We have not lived there for almost as long as we did live there.

We moved in when Lady J was 2 weeks old.  It quickly became home and it was meant to be our forever home. It had everything we needed at the time and potential for so much more: The upstairs was unfinished, so we finished it prior to the arrival Bud. We had 2 contractors walk through, the day before “the event” to give us estimates on adding a nursery for K-Mad who was just 16 weeks along in utero.

We had amazing neighbors. The guys would help with lawn care and golf together when possible. We would have them over for BBQs and football games. Their pool was open to us on hot summer days. Their children helped plow the driveway before my husband returned home from work. They came to help with the kids when the first trimesters got the best of me. They were great neighbors. The kind you want in your forever home, in your forever neighborhood…

Unfortunately, it is not our forever home, not our forever neighborhood. It has been close to 2 years since “the event.”  The property is nothing more than a charred foundation with a fence, an empty hole, a void…

There was once a possibility of rebuilding. There was once a glimmer of returning.

It’s not often that we go back to the neighborhood. It’s too painful. Too many memories of what once was, too many plans of what was supposed to be…

When I close my eyes and think about the possibility of a new home, all I see is this one.  I can’t imagine another layout, a different backsplash, new bedding… I know that will change in time, when we do have a new house and begin making it a home, but for today, for now, for this moment in time this is all I see…

So here’s to new beginnings. This painful book is far from its end, but at least this chapter is closed.

To good neighbors…may we be so lucky to find them again!

Artwork: March 30, 2014

Almost three years ago we had a devastating fire that destroyed our home and consumed our contents. I often refer to that day as “the event” because I still have a hard time with the word fire, which incidentally is more common that most people would give notice to. I notice it. Every song it’s in. Every phrase that refers to it. Every news story that shows its destructive powers. I relive “the event” just about every day. And honestly, I think I’m doing ok. But some days are harder than others.

My husband and I have come to terms with the fact that we lost just about every material item that we owned. Very little was salvaged. Fortunately, we were able to save our wedding album and some other boxes of pictures and videos. Unfortunately, there were many other irreplaceable items. Most days I try not to think about it. Today is not one of those days.  Today, I miss our artwork.

Artwork is special. It’s personal. It often represents events or emotions that are deeper than the canvas measures and more vibrant that the colors upon it.

As I sit, looking around at my in law’s artwork, I am almost transported back to our home, staring at our own personal pieces of art. I miss them. I am flooded with memories and consumed with emotions.

The Linda Hartough of the 18th Hole at Harbourtown hung above ourIMG_0307 fireplace. We got engaged on that green 7 1/2 years ago. I remember that magical night like it was just a moment ago.

 

The (copy of the) Monet that I got for my husband’s 30th birthday. I surprised him with an entire day in NYC living out the new Thomas CrIMG_0309own Affair.  He woke up to his suit hanging on the wall with a bowler hat and a riddle to our first destination. After sailing around the harbor, he received his next clue in the riddle that led us to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His next clue brought us to dinner at Cipriani’s on 59th.  After dinner I gave him his final clue as to the whereabouts of the painting. It hung in our bedroom above his dresser.

Above my dresser hung the painting I painted for him when we were first moving to New Jersey from northern Virginia. It wasn’t my favorite artwork. It wasn’t my best artwork. But he loved that painting. In the middle I had inscribed a quote from our song, Moondance.  “Can I just have one more moon dance with you, my love?”  I didn’t know it at the time that I had painted it, but three years later we were married under a blue moon.

Our dining room boasted another Linda Hartough of the 7th Hole at Pebble Beach. It reminded me of my grandparents. I believe they once told a story about playing a round there, though they were not golfers. It hIMG_0308ung gloriously next to their Shabbat table where I spent most Friday nights of my childhood with my uncles, aunts and cousins. Memories too numerous to recount. I can still hear the stories, songs and jokes, “Hark! I hear the cry of cannons!”

I know that in time we will rebuild our own collection. I know that we have made and will continue to make new memories.

Last winter I had the pleasure of making more paintings with our children. They hang above K-Mad’s bed and are filled with memories, resilience, and love.

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Above our bed hangs a painting I had commissioned for Brian before “the event.”  It was to hang in our living room.  Hopefully, it will someday. But for today, I just miss our artwork.

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Proof of Residence: May 2014

For the last 3 years, almost to the day, we have not had a house and as such, an official address. During these 3 years we have moved 6 times. Our stays have ranged in time from 2 weeks to almost 2 years. Throughout each of our living arrangements we maintained our NJ licenses and our official address was still our home.  Even after we sold the foundation and property in April 2013, I kept my license as is, unable to move on.

Registering Lady J for kindergarten proved to be difficult without our local address being ours. But given our circumstances, we were allowed. There was a homeless form in her packet that I honestly had to hold back tears when I saw it. Was that us?  Do I need to fill that out?  Are we homeless? I didn’t complete it, since we live in my in-laws’ house…but it didn’t lessen the blow or make me feel any more home-ful.

I had looked into changing everything over to PA after a small hit & run incident outside Lady J’s school this winter, that left my driver’s side mirror cracked. I called and waited for the police. After taking my report, he told me he would “let it go this time” but that I need to get my PA license and reregister my car here. It was illegal for her to go to school here since we’re not officially residents. “Great!” I thought, holding back more tears and choking back the lump in my throat.

I went back to my in-laws’ to look up the needed information. In order to change everything over, I needed to show proof of residency. Looking over the list of acceptable proof opened the floodgates. I quickly closed out of the page and shutdown my laptop. It was too hard, still too soon, still not OUR home….

I tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away. But eventually, it was time. My husband gathered his proof of residency: w2 form, tax return, and our bank statement.

Mine was more difficult, as I don’t have a w2 to prove my address, utilities are not in our name, and cell phone bills are not acceptable forms of proof.  In order for me to prove my residency, I had to bring my father-in-law as additional verification. (I should note that in the end, he was not needed, but that didn’t help quell the emotional aspect of the situation.)

My husband asked me to gather all official documents which were miraculously saved during “The Event”: birth certificates, passports, our marriage license (since I never updated my passport), and social security cards.

I opened up the manila envelope that I had placed them in the week following “The Event.”  I had needed them to get a new NJ license as mine had perished in our home.

A haunting smell of burnt ash wafted upwards as I slid the contents onto our bed. The charred pages stirred flashes of memories back to that horrific day and the weeks that followed. I could feel my blood coursing through my body. My arm hair stood straight as if shock had taken over, again…

I put all of the pages back in the envelope and we left for the DMV.

I handed over my NJ license today, and with it, a little piece of my heart…

The Great Oak (short version): May 20, 2014

A few weeks ago on Facebook, a friend asked a general question: “In the moment of the unknown, in the face of a challenge…How strong will you stand?”

Here was my response: “We are as strong as the Great Oak under which we spoke our vows. Our branches may sway in the wind, but our roots are deep and our trunks, thick. We are home to our children, regardless of where home is. Our strength comes from within and from without. You may see us leaning on one another and on others for support from time to time but rest assured our strength is rock steady. This family tree will one day be a forest…”

A new house stands on the foundation of our property that we sold just over a year ago, almost 2 years after “the event.” It’s not our house. It never will be.

When I pulled into our neighborhood last Friday to get a glimpse of the new construction, I was honestly hoping for closure. I was wishing that this empty, gut-wrenching feeling of loss would just dissipate. Like pulling a band-aid off and the wound was miraculously healed and I could look back and say something like, “remember the time..?” as though recalling a distant memory with an old friend.

Instead, I was met with an overwhelming feeling of longing to return, of knowing this was where we were supposed to be, of home.

Three years ago, today, I woke to a typical Friday morning, went about my normal routine, and prepared for my friends to join Lady J, Bud, and me at our weekly Mommy & Me play date. {K-Mad was 16 weeks along inside me.}

A few hours later, minutes before our guests arrived, the unthinkable happened…

Forest fires, although devastating, are also natures way of rebirth. New growth takes time as the forest returns to life and takes root.

There are still many days when the ashes smoke and the embers glow bright with the sorrow of loss. My strength as an oak wanes at times.  My branches may sag, my trunk feel hollow and my roots feel parched.

Last week I read an inspirational quote that read: “Courage is not having the strength to go on. It’s going on when you don’t have the strength.” (Mighty Girls)

These past 3 years have proven that seedlings are starting to sprout and roots to dig deep.  So today I stand tall, with the courage for growth. Thank you to all who stand with me, in my forest.