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We have been safely tucked away in a Marriott suite hotel for 3 ½ weeks now. Everyone has been wonderful. At the height of the diaspora there were 13 homes-worth of us here. Some are multi-person homes and others single person homes. Each Friday we get a bill slipped under the door showing our week’s stay. The bill is direct paid by our insurance company but it is guaranteed by our credit card. I am not quite sure where the bill is going for our too-frequent-but-not-as-bad-as-it-could-be trips downstairs to the shop where ice cream and chips are at the tip of your fingers.

We have full kitchen, albeit small (see photo). It has granite counter tops, a tiny range and a full size dishwasher.

For more than a few Fridays of our 35 years as a family we have had pizza and an at-home movie. Usually the pizza is home-made or home-baked. Our pizza came by delivery the first two Fridays after the fire. Last Friday we decided to do a take-and-bake. My spouse came home with size we always get. As he came in the door we looked at each other, eyes wide, and together we turned and and peered into the tiny oven and realized it would never fit. Neither of us had thought of that. Determined to hold on to some normalcy, we cheerfully undertook surgery. We sliced part of the pizza off and put it into the stove’s tiny broiler pan to bake on the 2nd round of cooking. We were afraid the remaining pizza would drip over edge of the pan if we cut the existing tray smaller. I grabbed scissors and started clipping the edges of the pan like you do to sew a fitted sleeve to a shirt. My spouse grabbed the stapler and away we went. It worked (see photo below). We ate pizza like the 6th and 7th innings at a baseball game with a 7th inning stretch but the pizza was determined by us, not by the winds of fortune.

Immediately after the fire our friends asked what we needed. It was hard to figure that out. I just wanted to duck my head and not talk to anyone. After a bit my sister guided me to the understanding that people wanted to help and I had to let them. We made a “wish list” that was circulated by email. People started bringing us stuff. Everyone was respectful of our need for privacy, they came quietly with boxes of this and that. Some brought garden flowers. That helped a lot.

The second week as we gathered our strength I made a second list. We asked for silverware the first week and people were so generous we had enough silverware to feed half of the hotel. We needed something different. We asked for dirt-related things. We asked for rags because we came back filthy dirty from the house site. We asked for “food with dirt on it” because I was mourning the loss of my garden. One of our colleagues has kept us in garden food. Curiously it always arrives clean with no dirt. Having fresh garden vegetables has been surprisingly healing. Garden food is always wonderful but somehow being able to serve home-grown food at a not-home table has focused us on bounty rather than loss. Somehow the loss of my beautiful small garden feels diminished.

The first few days after the fire I wanted to get a “FEMA trailer” and go home. I was ready to go the day they opened the roads. I shopped for trailers. I cried when those around me told it was not a good idea because of the ash and other toxins in the air. After a few days I understood but still wanted to go home. The second week my spouse started to hunt for a rental house. He wanted to be away from the burned house as much as I wanted to be there. Our reactions were identical; two sides of the same coin. He came back with a possible alternative but if I could not go home, I wanted to stay in the hotel. The tides of fortune had forced me to change and I was not going to change again. Like the trailer, I knew digging my heels in and keeping my hotel door closed would not help. We worked together in earnest to find temporary housing. We found three options. It felt like House Hunters on HGTV. We eliminated one because of the location. It was a gorgeous place, a Shangri-La of sorts, but too far from our old house to to balance rebuilding with work. Two places were left. We selected one based on its location and began the temporary housing process. The process is complicated. We are still in process.

It has been 3 ½ weeks in the hotel now. The sanctuary that kept us safe three weeks ago feels very different now. Whether or not we move soon is undetermined. It is not clear what options we do have. One thing is determined. We do not have our old house. Wherever we end up it will be determined by the fire. How we live with that will be determined by us.