Friday, August 29, 2008

still there

strange little reminders of the home that was
- little windchimes still hanging on the kitchen window

- the baseboard moldings in what was our bedroom

- xmas garland being stored in the garage.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Grapple is gone and so is most of our house.

Here's what I came "home" to last night after work. For whatever reason I felt a little more bothered by the sight of it than the day before... I think because, being at work all day, I hadn't witnessed the destruction as it happened. So it felt more out of my control or something. But the grapple is gone, having done it's job. A neighbor joked, "I see you've decided to go with a ranch?" to which my joker husband responded, "We wanted a really open feel to things." Thank goodness we've kept our sense of humor through it all.
There's still a giant mess to be cleaned up. They actually have two dumpsters going- one with masonry and brick to be recycled and one for the other stuff. The brick stuff is overflowing the garage area and the rest is piled where our music room used to be and overflowing into the back. Today I imagine they'll bring some machine like a mini-bulldozer to shovel out all the stuff into a dumpster. They are taking down one last wall by hand and then it's clean and prep for framing.

Meanwhile, we're finalizing our window selection today and most likely will put a down payment on our appliances. Now we have the fun of watching the money rush out of our accounts ;) but really, the process of selecting fixtures, appliances, tile, etc. has so far proven to be really fun for us. We both feel like we're building our forever home and that's beyond exciting....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

End of first day of major demo

Grappling with the Graple

Wow. Yesterday was the first day of major demo on the house. We were both excited and apprehensive about how we would feel. Heading over to the house so early, felt eerily like those first days postfire when we were at the house throughout the day, going through things and meeting with insurance adjusters. Yesterday morning we were met by a friend D., who has most generously offered to film key points of our rebuild to make into a DVD documenting this chapter of our lives; our friends L. and A. who thoughtfully brought coffee for us; and the demo guys who were prepping the house and waiting for the grapple to arrive.

The main demo guy walked us around the house and explained the plan. One thing we were both interested and happy to hear is how much recycling these guys do. He explained that they'll separate as best they can, the wood from the cement and block, the later of which can be recycled into road beds. Also all the metal from the house- from the duct work to piping- will all be recycled.

The grapple arrived a little after 8am. The thing is Enormous. For the next 7 hours we watched, completely awe-struck, as it went to work. He worked in the back of the house, starting with the deck, moving to the family room and then to the upstairs. The machine is unbelievably powerful and really looks like a giant t-rex head--whether taking a giant mouthful of roof or ramming its head on top of a pile of wood to crush it down to fit into the dumpster.

There were moments that were difficult to watch, like when it first started really destroying our family room structure, or when it lifted our mattress out and crushed it in its powerful jaws. When they broke for lunch, M and I walked around carefully and picked out a bit of the mural that had been painted on the wall in one of the spare, someday-kids room. Many of my books lay scattered in the framing and insulation, bits of sheet music were scattered throughout the debris.

That said, the spectacle was just incredible. Neighbors wandered over and at one point we had probably a dozen kids sitting on the neighbor's lawn gasping and cheering as the grapple's mouth appeared from behind the house and started demo-ing the roof. I imagine it's something they won't soon forget.

Most of all, this is the biggest visible progress in months. As strange as it was watching the machine rip apart our home and crush it down and load it into dumpsters.... watching those dumpsters being carted away brought a tremendous sense of relief and optimism.

At the end of the day, the whole back of the house was gone. The only thing left standing in the back, ironically, was the fireplace/chimney where this whole thing started. Today, M. and I have to be back at work, but the machine will continue to break down the framing and selected masonry and the chimney. They'll have some hand demo to do after that and then clean and prep for framing.

Last night we came home a bit sunburned and absolutely exhausted. I described it to M. that I felt as though I had just watched a really intense movie.... that feeling of re-emerging from a dark theater into the 'real world' but still feeling caught up in the drama and emotionally drained. Yesterday I contributed it solely to watching the demo itself... but in thinking about it now, it may also have been the feeling of a larger turning point... that finally, after months of being so bogged down by this, we're moving forward, leaving the dark weight of the loss and stepping back into our 'real world'.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

final respects

This morning we went to the house to say goodbye. Immediately following the fire, we so shell shocked it was hard to grasp the loss, then with the nightmare of the insurance claim it was as if the house with our destroyed possessions was completely frozen in time… now, though, with things moving forward, changing… with major demo slated for this week, both M and I felt moved to go back, take one last look and say goodbye to the home we fell in love with two and a half years ago and made our own... we needed a chance to grieve the physical representations of the life we had built together.

The masonry walls of the exterior weren't affected by the fire and, as such, disguise the destruction within. Even knowing what to expect, it's overwhelming for us to walk inside. The putrid smell of burnt remains is worse than ever and the demolition crew has unearthed from the rubble things we suspected were gone but hadn’t seen since the fire… photos, old sheet music, birthday cards. Our piano had been covered with a tarp by the firemen initially, but suffered too much water damage to be saved. For the past nine months- through rain storms, freezing temperatures and the heat of July it's been under that tarp, where it's been conveniently masked out of sight. Today we both gasped to see the piano lying turned over on its back on a pile of debris, the pedals broken and rusted… It's very difficult to explain the pain of seeing that... it's an inanimate object but one that holds so much personal significance, has brought hours of joy and comfort and music to our lives.... looking so very neglected, and uncared for, no life left to it..... slated to be thrown in the same dumpster as burnt framing, soggy insulation and other dear pocessions that can now only really be called garbage.

We know there are better times ahead, new memories to be made in a new house… but even with the optimism we have to be moving forward (finally) with rebuilding, today we felt again painful sense of loss that I suppose will never completely go away. Today we're letting those feelings make their way through us. Tuesday will be big demo and I think that too will be tinged with a bit of sadness. Goodbye piano. Goodbye house. You were so good to us and we cared for you as best we could. We never imagined parting like this and we'll remember the joys we shared here, even as we rebuild and celebrate the making of new memories.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Demo begins

Day one of demolition. They have taken out most all of the duct work and anything else that was salvageable/recyclable metal from the house. They also started taking off the siding from the back so that they could unbolt the framing from the foundation. Monday they'll bring in the jackhammers to do more of that along with more hand demo inside and Tuesday the giant machine will come to really make a mess (and then clean it up!) and start rebuilding.

It's incredibly encouraging after nine months of hardship and heartache to see progress being made, but it still feels like an emotional roller coaster at times... while demo is the beginning of getting our house (and our lives) back, it's also a goodbye to the home that was... and our belongings that were unsalvageable but have sat, through the winter, spring and summer in slow decay in the shell of that home.

Last weekend we went in to remove the front light and take off all the knobs and pulls from the kitchen cabinets.. thinking they could all be reused in someway. Standing on twelve inches of debris, swatting away gnats and flies and trying not to breathe too much of the lasting putrid smell of burnt everything while unceremoniously going at the cabinet pulls with the screw driver I half-joked, "who would ever have dreamed we'd be standing in our kitchen, doing this..." Most of that day, though, we worked in silence. I don't know what M. was thinking about, but my thoughts were bouncing around memories.... memories of walking through the house with our realtor the very first time and being so excited by the kitchen, choosing and hanging the curtains for the windows, memories of the countless gourmet dinners M prepared in that kitchen and the games of scrabble at the counter we'd play after dinner while polishing off a bottle of wine and talking about the challenges of the day, dreaming of the future... memories of entertaining friends, hosting our first thanksgiving with both sets of parents, cooking pancakes for M. on Saturday mornings, singing along with "At Last" playing from the stereo.

I opened one of the cabinets and found the little slip of paper with my handwriting taped to the shelf, "Life with you is a dream". I had left a bunch of such notes all over the house when I was away for six weeks last summer, taped in surprise places for M. to find while I was away. I guess that one never got taken down... and even with all the destruction surrounding it, this little reminder of our "before" was there, fluttering gently from me whipping the door open. It's these little details that are hard to reconcile sometimes.

I will be happy when it's gone.... when we're no longer faced with the reminders, the choices of what to try to salvage and what to just give up on. I am looking forward to a clean slate... and clean fresh wood rising in right angles from the foundation. I am ready for the stench of smoke and fire to go away and for the charred wood to be somewhere else. Our GC says it will go fast- a few days of major demo and the framing will probably be done in a week. After so much inaction, it's both exciting and daunting to contemplate such speedy progress, but I'm ready. Most of all, we just keep our sights on when it's all done and we'll be back home, to a time when we can again set down our roots, unpack the things we were able to save and start anew.

Some photos