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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Very Productive Day!

"Two writers burst through the internet"
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Yesterday was a great day! I met Donna McDine at one of the many Starbucks that I frequent and it happened to be about equidistant between us both. I had promised myself some time for me, since I have been exclusively with my family since the fire. When I met Donna I was hoping for an hour or two for me and stimulating conversation with another writer. But Donna was so warm and I felt like we knew each other for much longer. We had met online in several different places and she will be a guest on my radio show this month. Our meeting was so much fun and I know that we will meet again. We have so much in common and the great thing is that the feeling is mutual between us. It's so great to have a writing friend who lives so close!! As you can see in the picture we had a great time!!! Donna wrote about this on her blog, Write What Inspires You! too.:) It's a true admiration society between the two of us. And we owe it all to the internet.

On some days you feel like you are on an airport conveyer walk. Today was one of those days. There was hardly any down time at all! After two weeks of procrastination we finally got my daughter's TV and DVD player out of her room. We put them all in my husband's car. Today we brought them back to Costco and here is the amazing thing. They were both on the three month warranty so Costco gave back the entire amount to my daughter. I wanted to hug the Costco employee and it was such a short and wonderful experience. If you buy anything from Costco as long as you have all the parts they will take it back if it's within three months of the date of sale.

Then today we went over to the smokey house and got our TV and Blue Ray DVD player out of the house! The smoke smell seems to have gotten worse, but we were able to transport the 37" TV down our steps and into my husband's car that is sadly starting to smell like the inside of a busy ashtray. We brought it to Stanton Electronics, which is giving us an estimate.

Here's the thing about this estimate. When I called them to ask about it they said that we could bring in as much as we wanted. The guy on the phone said that it would be a free estimate. But when we got there we had to have a sidewalk conference, because the guy then said that it would be $75 for the three pieces that we brought in. We also brought the Breville toaster oven that I wrote about with such love a few weeks ago before the fire. With the TV and DVD player he said each one was $25 apiece. So I reminded him that they said free. Then he said it was only free for one. I chose the TV and we had to pay $50. That was not cool! I mean when you say free it should be free. It even says free estimates on the website.

But we were worried about all of them and hope that we don't have to replace them. I will be especially sad about the toaster oven, since we only got to use it for about a week.:) Stanton will open them up and check if they are still working. Hopefully all they will need to do is clean them and they will be good as new. You should have seen all the TV's and small appliances in this place. The guy told me that a lot of people use them for the huge TV's and I saw quite a few there too. It's like a treatment center for sick appliances. I wonder if they take health insurance.LOL

As the days wear on I think that my husband is starting to come to the point where we are. Today after he hauled the TV down the steps and brushed by the soot covered door, walked down the outside steps littered with glass pieces and got soot all over his brand new leather jacket I think it dawned on him that this is no longer our home. The place is freezing cold and I talked about my daughter's room in my last blog. I am giving up my piano, but since it is from 1959 and a Sterling upright I am going to try to sell it. It needs to be ozoned, but after that I am going to see if I can get a buyer for it. If there is anyone reading this who might want a vintage piano that is in good shape except for one key and needs a new hammer, please let me know. Of course, if you want it you will have to come and take it for yourself or hire your own movers to get it. :) It has a really good tone and has had lots of love over the years. :)

Until the next time, I hope to get back to talking about writing soon, but real life is cutting into my writing totally. Donna told me about a new group that is called IndeDebut 2010 and is composed of authors who are published by small presses. Donna is one of them and the group was formed by an author who was published by a small press. She got frustrated that she couldn't be a part of some of the groups out there for newly published authors and got all these authors together. I think this is a great idea and hope that more authors will join her.

Donna McDine is going to be one of my guests on the January Red River Writers Tales from the Pages. My other guests will be Lea Schizas and maybe a special mystery guest. Please tune in on Thursday, January 28th at 3PM Central time for this month's show.

Thank you to all of my new followers and to the ones who continue to read my meanderings. I am so grateful to you for keeping me sane during this chaotic time in my life.:) I hope you all got the hug I gave you:)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This is for everyone who has been nice to me. I wish I could do it in person for all of you!

When Abnormal Becomes Normal!

After the fire we moved into a hotel and since then we have been in this same hotel. At first our life seemed upside down and strange. After all we were all comfortable in our own place and knew where everything was and everything had its place. Not that we were such great housekeepers, but my daughter and I had successfully organized several areas of the house and we were working on doing more. My things were all around me and I could sit at my computer and see my china cabinet filled with my Betty Boops and my piano. Yes, we had to have my piano in the dining room, because that was the only place it would fit. I was going to practice more and get ready for a performance this spring. Don't get me wrong. I am not a professional and definitely not someone you would consider accomplished. But my sister-in-law kind of cajoled me into playing with her. It's all done without music. It's all improvisation, which can be very well done.

The people I have seen are accomplished pianists and so is my sister-in-law who has performed several times and sung too. They perform with other instruments such as a viola or a drum and occasionally there are other kinds of artists involved who draw or improvise a project. It's a very harmonious experience and you can see how all art is related.

Getting back to my practicing, the thing is that I also had a lesson from a piano teacher who is a mutual friend and now if I go back it will be awkward. The lesson was back in the summer and I promised to practice. This promise was difficult, since there were always people around me and no one wanted to listen to me practice. That's no excuse, but I'm using it.:) Seriously, I didn't practice enough and now that my piano is no longer with me I can't practice.

Today I had to make a very sad and necessary decision. We met with the man from ServPro again to get another estimate today. I have decided to give up my piano.We had to meet in our smokey apartment and now going in there is starting to feel like I'm in a set for Supernatural.:) By the way if you haven't checked out this awesome show you should definitely watch it. If you like clashes between good and evil and stories about the Apocalypse then you will love Supernatural. Add in two really hot guys, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who play respectively, Dean and Sam Winchester. These two hunt and find demons, vampires, and ghosts and usually slaughter them. After the fire watching Supernatural was a way for us to feel more like it was home. If you watch the program and get hooked you are going to have to buy the DVD's for all the seasons before this one to get caught up in the story. Luckily, we had loaded them all on our computers so we could watch. However, connecting the computers to the hotel TV required a couple of days in Best Buy and don't get me started on how awful that was.:) But at least we were able to watch a wide screen.

Sorry I've gotten side tracked from what I was talking about and that is life in a hotel room. At first it seemed strange. I admit, putting a key card into a slot is different from opening your own house door. Not having an oven is difficult, but that isn't the worst part. The worst part is trying to make life normal with a refrigerator filled with snack food and nothing else.:) The room has pots and pans and dishes, but it's not my kitchen and so it's strange.:) We have eaten out or brought in food every night. The hotel has a free dinner three days a week, but I'm picky about what I eat so I haven't eaten too many of them. Tonight was only the second time I ate down there. We have a living room where we all congregate and a table where most people eat. However, my husband has decided to use this as his catch all and desk so it looks pretty much like his side of the table looked at home. Gradually as we have been living here it has started to look more and more like home as we have brought in more and more things from the house that could be salvaged without being cleaned.

It's hard going back to the house to pick over what is left. We still have clothes in the closets and in our drawers. We are leaving a lot of stuff including most of our bedroom stuff including the mattress I've had for over fifteen years. I can remember my daughter shopping for a new mattress and don't look forward to that again.:) Yet I'm okay with doing that and even though I will probably cry when I have to get rid of my piano, I'm okay with that too. You start to prioritize what is important to you when an event like this happens. But every time I have to go into that house I feel intense pain that such an event could have happened and about the loss of life next door. Nothing we give up will replace those lives and I feel much better when I think that I can give up almost anything as long as I have my family.

Because they are my real home and always will be. They are not easy to live with and sometimes I want to wring everyone's neck. But here in this fairly spacious hotel suite we have somehow made an abnormal situation about as normal as being home. Now it doesn't seem odd to me to have to park my car using a key card, find a parking space then walk through a hotel lobby, get on an elevator and use a key card to get into my room. I found myself thinking about going back to the hotel as home. In a sense it is my home now until we find a place to live in permanently.

I'll tell you a secret. I spoke with the mailman today and told him that we are keeping our mailbox until we get a real address. Knowing that we still have the same address helps me, because at least we have a place to get our mail. This is now the only real sense of permanence that we have. When we first got here I tried to think of what I could describe my situation. If I had to name it I would say this is a velvet nightmare. Velvet, because it's pretty soft. We have a very nice hotel room and we are comfortable. We were able to get new clothes and we are able to eat decently. But the nightmare happens when I realize that at the end of the month we need to find a place to live, because it is really expensive to live here. My house has layers of smoke and grit over almost everything and we have to pack everything without any heat or electricity in the middle of winter.:) If we pack enough of our stuff for the ServPro guys then it will be less money. So stay tuned for news about our packing experience. I am sure it won't be boring.:)

What I have learned from all of this is that life goes on even though it might be abnormal and if you live with this abnormality long enough it becomes normal.:)

One more thing before I end this. I want to thank all of the people who commented here and expressed their concern for me and my family. I also want to thank everyone who both offered us gifts and the ones who gave us gifts. My family and I are overwhelmed with the generosity that has been shown toward us and so I want to give you all a giant hug!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Aftermath of a Tragedy

A portrait of Cesar Tellez and Guadalupe Ramos-Tellez adorns the
altar during a memorial Mass on Monday at St. John the Evangelist Church in White Plains. They died in a fire Thursday in North White Plains. Cesar Tellez made it out of the burning house but went back for his wife. (Angela Gaul/The Journal News)

Update: I just found out that the fire was caused by faulty dishwasher wiring!!! This puts a whole new slant on this tragedy.

After my last blog post showing the photos of the fire I realized that pictures do speak louder than words. When I tried to explain the course of this tragic fire I didn't know exactly what had happened. We were driving around during the worst part of it. But the photos showed people the entire scene. The comments on that post showed me how many people are my friends and what friends will offer you in a crisis. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world because of how my friends rallied around me and gave me strength to face the next days.

Last night I attended the memorial service for my dear neighbor Cesar and his wife Guadalupe. The church was filled to the brim with people in the pews and there were about six or seven rows of people standing in the back. There were two large paintings of the couple on either side of the altar and wreaths of white flowers shaped in a heart with red roses laced through them also stood on either side of the altar. For a Jewish girl so many flowers were strange. Yes, we have flowers along the altar if there is a synagogue service. But usually we send money to charity in the deceased behalf. However, my family wanted to send our respects and so I ordered flowers to be delivered to the church. Seriously, I have no idea if they were there, because you can't go searching for your own flowers during the service. Then when people started taking communion there wasn't a chance either. But I hope they were there.:)

I wanted to see his family, because I wrote a poem a few nights after the tragedy in his and his wife's honor. Unlike the Jewish service, people didn't say a eulogy. So I handed the poem to his younger brother and hugged all of his family. I couldn't stop crying during the service so I looked worn and shell shocked when I got outside. But don't you know when you look the crappiest someone wants to interview you. There was Channel 12 again asking me how I felt. Also the Journal News interviewed me. You can learn more about it in this article rehashing what happened.

How did I feel? Nothing seems real anymore. In a few days my pretty settled life unraveled and nothing is the same anymore. We have been living in a hotel since the fire made us leave and now we found out on Sunday that our apartment is no longer habitable. We are looking for a new place, looking for a way to clean our possessions and looking for a way to make sense of this whole event.

Why should a lively, healthy 28 year old man and his young wife suddenly be gone? His heroic act raised him above the normal man and into a place reserved for superheroes. I had a superhero living next door to me and I didn't know. I wonder if he knew that the few minutes when he was outside with the rest of his family would be his last. Yet his act of bravery is why I can't get him out of my mind. At a time when he had to make a decision he chose to save his wife and perish with her. That sentence itself brings me to tears. This sad act overwhelms everything else that happened because of the fire.

Caesar and Guadelupe are going to be sent back to their native home town for burial in Mexico. Now they will be together and at peace for all eternity. They are loved by their friends and this was obvious last night when the whole community came together for support and love. As I shook the hands of strangers after the ceremony I felt welcomed by these warm and hard working people who tried valiantly to pay attention to the service as their children whimpered.

This tragedy brought home to me what so many mothers and fathers have suffered when they lose a son or daughter due to war. This was a house fire and not war, but in many respects it was the same. The devastation was the same and so was the emotion as a young life was senselessly destroyed.

As I mentioned I wrote a poem. I'm posting it in honor of this young couple and the heroism of my neighbor:

Sleep Well, My Friend – Sueno Bien, Mi Amigo
In Honor of Cesar and Guadalupe
by Barbara Ehrentreu

Sleep well, my friend. Though your journey has been short Your broad heart encompassed all who needed you
Tireless to the end you raced
for your love despite the flames licking at your heels
as you flew up the stairs

Sleep well, my friend
Your work is through
Others will wash and polish your cars
shine them to the gleam we all saw
Others will take over the yoke of the leader
you were.

Sleep well with your love
In one flash you and she were gone,
trapped by the furor of the raging flames’ unfolding petals
buried by the deluge of fire.
You are gone too young,
too soon.

Sleep well, my friend
Crowds of angels wait to lay laurel leaves upon your brow
for the hero you were
Though your beloved red car remains in the driveway
I picture you sailing through the gates of heaven
in the drivers’ seat

Sleep well my friends.

Copyright 2010 by Barbara Ehrentreu

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Writing Resolutions

Here are my own New Year's resolutions. See if we have any of them in common.:)

  1. Get my first YA novel published. This keeps getting rejected even after I revised it after the last rejection. I don't think that I am sending to the right people.
  2. Finish my second YA novel. I think I finally have an ending for it.:)
  3. Revise my third YA novel. This is the first novel I have ever written in a boy's POV.
  4. Revise the first draft of my first romance/adventure/suspense novel. I sent an excerpt into a romance critique group and happy to be part of the group now. For a children's writer this is something.:)
  5. Write more short stories and submit them. I know a lot more places to submit them now. I will try for more flash stories too.
  6. Promote my writing more including my blog and articles. In that vein I have linked my last article to this blog.
What are your writing resolutions? Let's compare ours. Please leave a comment. Your comment may get on the air for my January show.:) On that show I will have Donna McDine and Lea Schizas as well as a mystery guest perhaps.:)

One more comment on the fire that has displaced my family and killed two of my neighbors. This was probably the most heroic gesture I have ever seen. This man rushed into a burning house to save his wife with no regard for himself. He and his "extended family" were such wonderful people and I think I should honor him in some way. Perhaps this requires a story or poem. I'm not sure yet.

Thank you to my readers and I hope that everyone had a great New Year's Eve. Ours was quiet but we had a layer of comfort being with each other that hasn't been present since my husband came out of the hospital. Our life together has been very chaotic lately, so this peace was very welcome and I hope it continues throughout 2010. Happy 2010 and I expect to see your resolutions in the comments. I would love to have at least three or four to read on the air for the January show!!!
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