Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letting Go, How 9/11 Changed our Lives Forever

I've written this a thousand times in my head but every time I've sat down at my computer to write it out, I'm unable to say what I need to say.

It's been 65 days.

I'm never going to be able to tell our story in a way that people will understand. I'm never going to understand how, 10 years later, the anniversary of 9/11 paired with being the wife of a firefighter has brought up such raw emotion each day leading up to today. I'm never going to fully comprehend how what we experienced in Norway 65 days ago relates to 9/11.

All I know is that it does.

It all does.

We live on the west coast. A continent away from the attacks that took place on 9/11, but as any firefighter will tell you, those were his brothers racing towards the burning buildings. Those were his brothers pulling people out. Those were his brothers being crushed when the towers fell. Those are his brothers still dealing with the physical effects and emotional scars of what happened on September 11, 2001, every single day.

When you're married to a firefighter, you don't get to "forget." You don't get to "move on." Much like the military is a family, the firefighter family spans age, race and gender and unites us all no matter where in the world we may be. Every man is your husband, father, uncle, friend or son. Every tragedy could have been him.

If Seattle had been the target of an attack, my husbands department would have been one of the neighboring departments called in and I could be in the same exact situation as those who lost loved ones in NYC, DC or Pennsylvania.

So when my children turned their heads to me and asked, "Could that happen to Daddy?" I had to answer as truthfully as I knew how, "Yes, but it won't."

This is what it's like for a firefighter family.


Sailing into Oslo that morning, we knew immediately this place reminded us of home in the Pacific Northwest. It was green and hilly, a stark contrast to the flatness and lack of evergreens in Denmark. We felt an instant ease and familiarity although we had never been there and didn't understand the language. It felt right.

It had been raining heavily off and on that Friday, but that hadn't stopped us from seeing the city. The first thing we did after leaving the ship that morning was to take a 2 hour bus tour of the city, Holmenkollen and Vigeland Gardens. We figured that since we truly would be on our own, without our Copenhagen family to act as tour guides, it would be a great way to get an overview of Oslo and acquaint us with some local facts and maybe even some insider tips on how to do the city. We were really excited.

The bus left the City Hall and wound its way through the narrow cobblestone streets that make up a lot of the surface in Oslo. We drove by the parliamentary buildings, famous museums and the government buildings which flanked a large parklike space of land.

We did the touristy thing, following our tour guide and her little golden flag around at each stop. She shared stories of Norway and we were grateful for her chipper execution despite the pouring rain. When the bus dropped us back off at City Hall, we felt prepared to tackle what little bit of Oslo we could see in the time we had.

After waiting out the rain in City Hall, touring the incredible rooms and reading everything we came in contact with, we braved the rain to find a cozy spot for lunch. We nourished ourselves with a delicious fritatta and even more delicious coffee before going souvenir shopping and eventually finding our way back to the waterfront and the Nobel Peace Center, which was a priority on our "Things to see in Oslo" list.

There, we inhaled the messages of peace, non-violence and humanity that seemed to shout from every square millimeter of space in that building. We gazed upon the faces of Nobel Peace recipients and felt humbled. We sent an email home from an interactive exhibit about Nansen.

That's how my mom knew where we were when she heard the news that morning.

When we walked out of the Nobel Peace Center in downtown Oslo on July 22nd, we had about an hour before we had to be back to our ship to Copenhagen. It was "that time of day," the time of day we'd grown accustomed to (in a very short time mind you) to having a little pre-dinner snack of pastry or soft ice. We looked to our left, back towards City Hall and the downtown area that we'd already seem much of. We looked to our right, a meandering walkway along the harbor flanked by retail shops on one side and what looked like ice cream kiosks on the water side. We knew which way to go.

No sooner than had we begun walking to the right, we heard a loud noise.


I don't know how to articulate what that deafening noise sounded like. It wasn't a gun. It wasn't a firework. It didn't sound like a canon, although we heard from the myriad of voices in different languages surrounding us, someone saying "canon." We checked our watches, thinking maybe this was a customary Oslo thing to do at this time of day on a Friday, but nothing made sense.

What we did know, was to get moving.

We could see a giant cloud of smoke, ash and debris from where we were standing. Little bits of unknown. I kept thinking it must have been an accident, something went wrong somewhere or maybe it was a gas explosion.

Brett knew that it wasn't.

Things you know when something unexpected happens in a place where you are unfamiliar and you have zero access to information: you want to be anywhere other than here and you would give anything for a cell phone.

We had no phone, nothing. We relied on observing what those around us were doing, staying together and listening to our instincts.

Instinct told me to get out of there.

Instinct told Brett to get out of there, and to see if anyone needed help (the firefighter instinct, the instinct that makes him such a wonderful husband, father and person, the instinct that I love).

We decided that everyone seemed calm enough to turn left into the city streets from the relative safety of the waterfront to see if we could help. We passed people pressed into doorways, speaking in different languages. "Terrorista" and "bomba" were words we understood. We passed a mother on a cell phone, holding the hand of a young daughter, a stricken look on her face that all was not right. We passed a mother with a buggy, running the opposite direction from the way we were walking. We kept walking. But nobody seemed to be panicking too much.

We were almost to the open area where the government buildings stood when we saw them.

A half a block away, so many people, running towards us. A mob. Running away from something.

Brett grabbed my hand, looked at me, and said, "Nice, easy jog back to the boat. Here we go."

I stood for what seemed like a moment but was probably only a tiny sliver of a second, willing the tears not to come out of my eyes, willing myself to stop thinking I'd never see my children again, willing myself to hold it together and I ran with my husband back towards the waterfront.

I never looked back.


When people say they don't understand what the big deal is about 9/11, and that we are giving too much attention to the anniversary, I want to slink into my skin and become invisible.

We've always honored this day as a firefighter family, by doing things that we thought were meaningful. A moment of silence at the dinner table, telling our children our memories of that day or by going somewhere peaceful, away from it all. We know turning off the media is important. We know bombarding them with images is harmful. But we also know that we are American, and like it or not, this is OUR history. We share this history with everyone.

It's been incredibly hard for us this year. The combination of being in the fire service for my husband coupled with the terrorist attack in Oslo that is now a part of our shared history, has taken it's toll and I don't know how to fix it other than to write it out and finally try to take a step towards letting go.
It's all I know.

To tell, to write, to share.

Yesterday, Brett and the kids spent all day working on a new flagpole for our front yard. It's BIG. When he called for me to come take a look at it, I was overwhelmed. There were my 3 children, holding up the flagpole so Dad could get it's position just right before putting the finishing touches on it and pouring the concrete which will keep it in place.

It has a shiny fire nozzle on top and two 2011 dollar coins pressed into it's base, along with my daughters initials since she wasn't born when we raised the flagpole at our first house.

This morning at 5:46am, we got up, bleary-eyed and full of sleep, to raise the flag.

It's not much, but hopefully it will be enough to help us remember and to let go of the terrorist experiences that have become a part of our story, our history, us.

The kids helping with the placement of the flagpole, 9/10/11

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mothers Day Hints for Firefighters

If the men in your life are anything like mine, they don't know the difference between a Le Cruset and a "Tarjay." In other words, girly girl gifts escape him.

My friend's husband buys her purses for birthdays and holidays. And nice purses too. I am in awe of how he does it, as I have no knowledge of him employing the help of any female to get the job done. It's a mystery...

Not that I'm complaining but if my husband bought me a purse, I would likely receive something cammo or canvas. And it would be multi-functional and probably have thousands of carabeeners and pockets because every woman needs a purse that can double as a survival tent, right?

So this year, to make his job a little easier I'm going to direct him to the fabulous shop over at Firefighters Wives. Basically, all he has to do is blindfold himself and point at something on the screen. It's a no brainer!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Way We Were

Our Family, 2001 - Fire Academy Graduation

Washington State Fire Training Academy, Class of 2001(02)

This month marks my husband's ten year mark in the Professional Fire Service.


Your Fire Wife

Saturday, May 8, 2010


If your firefighter is anything like mine, he is constantly "ON."

Now, I don't mean to complain, because there is absolutely nothing like being married to a firefighter. They are loyal. They are kind. They are committed and they take their jobs both at home and the fire station very seriously. All good qualities to have in a husband, friend, father and firefighter.


Sometimes I wish he'd just not answer his Nextel.

I'm not talking about his pager - which is supposed to inform him of a call that would need his immediate attention - a true emergency. I'm talking about the phone that rings non stop. The phone that even rings when he's at the driving range and conveniently forgets to attach it to his hip (probably the only time this happens, mind you). The phone I want to hurl into the lake.

Yes, that one.

I don't mind the occasional call for advice.

But not being able to locate laundry soap at the fire station is not my husbands emergency.

Neither is calling at 6am on a Sunday to ask him what his picks are for the NASCAR pool they have going on at the station.

My husband could just turn off the phone or let his voice mail pick up once in awhile, but what if he missed something truly important? What then?

Fact is, he needs to be available. Even if that means answering the phone during the middle of family dinner to tell someone where the remote control is or where the last shift hid the rocky road ice cream.

It just comes with the territory.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sweat and Smoke: Tales From a Firefighter's Wife

I know, I know, I am going to burst the bubbles and the fantasies of many a woman with this tale, but as they say, truth is better than fiction.

Some of you may think that firemen come home in their bunker gear (that's the technical term for the stuff they wear when putting out fires, you know, the pants with the suspenders that they wear in all those sexy firefighter calendars with nothing else underneath), but that just isn't the case. That sexy bunker gear is left at the fire station.

Left there all alone with nobody to love it.

Anyway, most firemen rarely bring any of their uniform pieces home (unless their wife has a fetish) and the families of firemen don't see them wearing their uniforms any place other than at work, or when their son's 1st-grade teacher asks them to come speak for career day.

Have I deflated any stereotypes yet?

They do bring home laundry. Once in a while, firemen have to spend time at their local fire training academy brightening the minds and bodies of hundreds of young, idealistic, hopeful future firefighters.

Since this community service does not take place at the fire station, with it's professional laundry service, they bring their work duds home. Home for their barely-functioning, likes to shimmy into the middle of the room during a good spin cycle, definitely NOT Electrolux washing machine.
Have I mentioned my love of all things Electrolux lately? No? Well then.

This morning, along with my usual fare of dirty baseball pants and pink t-shirts covered in syrup, I also found a pile of navy blue items (the standard color of all things firefighter) heaped in a bundle on top of my NOT Electrolux washing machine.

I began to sort through the pile, noting the obvious dampness of the navy blue clothing items.

With each movement, a pungent odor would waft upwards and infiltrate my nostrils.

Oh yes, nothing like the smell of smoke and sweat first thing in the morning.

It was then determined, upon further investigation, that these navy blue clothing items were, of course, turned inside-out. I would have to touch them more than I wanted to. There was no way around it.

After one washing, the suspect odor was not gone. Vinegar was added to the second washing.

Currently, the third washing is taking place in more HOT water than should be used (yikes! the environment!) in my dutiful, although NOT Electrolux washing machine. I'm crossing my fingers that the third time is the charm in this case.

These, my friends, are the joys of being married to a firefighter. It just keeps getting better every day.

2001-02 Fire Training Recruit Class (Hubby is 4th from left, on the top).

Good thing he is cute too, otherwise it would just be him and the dog.

*Originally published at Stop Screaming I'm Driving, 2008.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Climbing Stairs

Thirteen years ago this month, I held my tiny, brand new, wrinkled little newborn son in the lobby of a massive skyscraper in downtown Seattle.

I think I may have had my first panic attack there, or at least the first feeling of utter motherly dread when we were driving down, down, down into the depths of the giant parking garage. I remember counting levels and wondering how we'd ever get out of this concrete jail if something horrible happened. Breathing the canned air on our way to the elevators it was all I could do to stop from running, my baby in tow, in order to get just one breath of fresh air...

Which must be pretty much the way my husband felt when he ran up 69 floors in full bunker gear to reach his goal.

Watching the members of our fire department get suited up, hydrated, say prayers and kiss their significant others goodbye was overwhelming, especially with our new baby. I teared up so many times I lost count. I was nervous for him, for them. I was proud of him, of them. And I paced nervously from the time he went up those escalators and out of my sight until the time I saw him, exhausted and spent, return back to our little staging area.

If you are in the fire service family, you know that events like The Scott Firefighter Stairclimb are yearly reminders of the loyalty, strength, endurance, pride and generosity of each firefighter who participates and his/her department. Behind those climbing men and women, stand several support people who also feel as passionately about the cause to raise funds for leukemia and lymphoma.

This year, my husband's good friend Tony and their Chief climbed. Chief and his daughter, who is a firefighter in Eastern Washington made it a father/daughter type challenge and I do believe they both came out on top of their game! What an inspiration.

I have the privilege of knowing (in blogland) a very talented local photographer who has covered the stairclimb. Not only do her photos capture every single emotion that is felt during this event, but she catches some unique behind-the-scenes shots as well which give surprising glimpses into each and every aspect of the climb. Check out her blog at: Sarah Alston Photography and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bacon Parmesan Roasted Red Potatoes

Say that ten times fast.

I swear, this is not a food and/or cooking blog. I swear. If you're looking for one of those, try these out - Half-Assed Kitchen, written by my friend Angie, or Desperate for Dinner, written by my friend Donata.

Those are cooking blogs.
This is not.

But, food is love. Food is comfort. And food is necessary for a family. We can't survive without it. And as life suddenly got more complicated around here, I realized that I could do one of 2 things: eat take out for the rest of my life, OR become a better cook. I chose the later. Now, I'm not saying that I'm an awesome cook (I'm just the regular kind). But I am saying that I'm cooking more, eating out less, and being more efficient at the grocery store. And all this adds up to one important fact: it makes life easier.

With the help of a weekly meal plan (and these cute downloadable meal planning sheets from Amy at Living Locurto), I've successfully attacked the past 5 weeks of meals...with a vengeance. And a glass of wine, but that's another story.

Most of the recipes I've been making are old family standbys, with a few of our more current recipes thrown in for a dash of excitement. If I have trouble with a recipe, I turn to my friends, offline and on, for advice. Take the other day, I was grappling with that ancient Tater Tot Casserole (yes mom, I know this is considered the anti-Christ in your eyes) recipe and my friends were there to help. One facebook friend pointed me to a helpful website, and my best girlfriend talked me through it on the phone as I stood over a hot stove preparing the dish.

In the end, it was fabulous...white trash and all. Katie had seconds and wanted the leftovers for lunch the next day. Clearly a blue ribbon dinner in her book! But, my MIL ate the leftovers in the middle of the night, Katie was crushed, and now I'll have to make it again soon. Good thing I now know how...

But isn't this supposed to be about potatoes?


This recipe is again, lifted from my mother (thanks mom). I'm one of those "that looks about right" kind of cooks when it comes to measuring - except for baking, I do measure when baking, unless it's chocolate chip cookies, then I just eyeball the ingredients (I could make those in my sleep). Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the measurements for this recipe are not exactly exact. Get my drift?

Bacon Parmesan Roasted Red Potatoes

6-7 medium sized red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2" pieces
3 slices bacon, cooked and diced
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup ranch dressing

Rinse, scrub and slice the potatoes so they look like this:

Then, take that bacon,

And slice it up.

Place the bacon and the potatoes in a 9 x 13 pan, like this:

And then, add the cheese (mmmm, cheese - I won't tell if you sneak a bite):

Then comes the sin.

The awful, no good for you, horrible, artery clogging sin.

The ranch dressing:

Believe me when I tell you, this is well worth it, whatever kind you use - my mom likes the "lite" kind. But she doesn't have to shop at Costco for her 3 ranch loving kids. So, like I said, use your favorite. This just so happens to be ours. And it's what I have in the refrigerator. So.

Now, toss all that cheesy, bacony, ranchy goodness together with the potatoes and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. Or, until the potatoes are nice and soft on the inside, crispy on the outside.

If this were a real cooking/food blog, this would be the time to show you the delicious finished product.

But it isn't.

And the product isn't finished. It's in the refrigerator, covered in foil, waiting to go in the oven in a few hours. But let me tell will be good. Probably so good that I'll forget to take a picture of it, as I'll be inhaling it at the speed of light.

But here's a picture of what else we're having, also not finished, I just thought you'd enjoy seeing how I tie my chicken legs together before roasting:

Bon Appetit!

*Cross posted at Stop Screaming I'm Driving!