Halloween 2016: Put Up Your Dunes

I have been SITTING on this drop-dead-slay-worthy piece of comedy for OVER TEN MONTHS. It took everything I had in January not to run immediately to the computer and share it.

I knew, I JUST KNEW, if I could wait until after Halloween, it would be so so worth the wait to reveal it all together.

What follows is the funniest recording I've ever spontaneously caught, combined with our yearly DIY family Halloween costume, sprinkled with every self-esteem issue I've ever had, rolled up with what it often feels like to be a mom.

Before anything, you must--MUST watch this short clip that explains where it all began. I beg of you not to skip ahead...it's so worth it. --Also because I spent an embarrassing amount of time making the video on my phone to go along with the audio and it's delightfully ghetto:

It came RIGHT to her, and Judah immediately agreed: no one had any issues with this match up!

And with that, the Dukes Family proudly presents our 2016 Halloween Offering: 

Aladdin Fam:
Starring: Jesse as Jafar; Noa as Abu; Layla as Jasmine; Judah as Aladdin; Keight as that buxom obese creepy lady who is on screen for 2 seconds objectifying the protagonist.

Could we have gone the Genie/Sultan/Carpet route? YES! In fact, Jesse was only chosen as Jafar out of all of these options only because I found a black robe at the thrift store before any of those other characters' prop (and it turned out great because I'd actually forgotten what the kids had originally assigned him in the recording). And it would have been way more iconic and recognizable for me to do one of them instead of "the rather tasty lady", but I simply could NOT give up this chance that the kids had scripted for me.

It crazy to me how well they nailed a theme too. They just did so well picking out costumes that fit each kid and what character they would like and would be cute on them. PLUS something cool for daddy and then something leftover and horribly embarrassing for mommy. JUST LIKE EVERY YEAR.

I was kind of feeling like a slacker for doing a Disney princess theme (including her non DIY outfit) but now I think this may be my favorite year ever because it's so bananas and just so us.

Street Rat surprisingly LOVED his costume. He's usually the least game of all of us.

Lounging with Raja on her terrace dreaming of a life of freedom (crying eyes because her ear piercing had closed up a teeny bit and I poked the earring through). 

Sticking together on the mean streets of Agrabah.  Noa also put up ZERO fight about the face-encompassing costume. and ADORED everything about Halloween (saying "TICKOTEE" and "gank goo" repeatedly being her favorite activities). 

This was extremely fun. He has on SO much eyeliner. We ran out of time or we would've added the twirly beard and snake staff.  I still think he pulls it off, and then some.

Go ahead and pencil this one in for "Senior Yearbook ad" and "rehearsal dinner"


I can show you my fist
Punch you over and over
let me tell you princess, if this gets out at school 
I'll make you paaaaaay!
A whole new world!

Urchin Squad

Things are unravelling fast now, Boy!

Sending your flea-ridden pet to do your dirty work!?
 Your sorcery will never win her, Jafar! She doesn't love you!

The greatest love story never told. Cant wait to spend 10,000 years crammed  into a lamp with this guy.


Slap Unhappy

My heart sinks whenever I see the kids' school pop up on my caller ID. "Best" case scenario was once Layla nose dived into a mud puddle (I feel legit proud), and didn't have backup clothes, and worst case was Judah getting his first ever migraine and screaming in abject misery in the middle of class. Usually it means they've puked or have a fever and I need to go get them. Never fun on any level.

Well, yesterday we captured the third kind of school phone call Pokemon: The Discipline Call.

Layla's sweet, sweet Kindergarten teacher left me a message just letting me know the story of the "white reminder" I would find in her folder today (a conduct report home to parents). She said Layla had slapped a friend, not very hard, but definitely a slap on the face and the little boy was upset. When she asked about it, Layla couldn't really say why she had done it--the boys hadn't hurt or teased her. The teacher said it was handled and over with as far as the school was concerned, but that it was extremely out of character for Layla. 

My first thoughts and feelings: I'm pretty angry because she knowsKNOWS that using your body to hurt or control someone else is unacceptable anywhere anytime (unless she's in danger). I'm embarrassed because I don't want my kid to be THAT kid, and what if the teacher thinks we are just crappy parents? I feel betrayed by Layla for making me look bad.

All that stuff is ABOUT ME. Not about Layla. That's not great.  That's parenting out of my own junk and insecurities instead of out of love for her and a desire to train her to be a healthy adult. 

So as I am waiting for the bus with Jesse, we decide to just ask her about her day as if we don't already know and just see how it plays out (because honesty has been a challenge for Layla sometimes, and want to give her practice at speaking hard truth). I am praying to just hear her heart and care for her--not myself. 

I am glad I had that time to think beforehand.

She hops off the bus and I asked about her day. She immediately says "I got a white reminder" kind of with a weird smirk on her face, almost a naughty smile, and I look at Jesse and am all "OH IT'S ON" inside. Benefit of Doubt: GONE. Little homie is laughing about this?!?!? Time to rain down the thunder. My "tsk-ing" finger is itching to be wagged.

But then she dissolves into tears, wailing, "I'm sad to talk about it." And my wagger finger disappears. I had not expected this gambit from this child. And it wasn't a gambit.

Come to find out, her day leading up to the slap was pregnant with angst. First, she had asked a few friends to play at recess and they had all been engaged with other buddies or activities and (not unkindly) declined. Then she did all the right classroom behaviors/tasks that typically earn her a reward but her teacher just happened to not notice this one time. And finally she left her snack box in the garage in the morning, so she didn't have anything during class snack time, and when she asked a friend for a piece of his cookie the friend said no.

That's a LOT of perceived rejection for a 5 year old who thrives on relationship, positive reinforcement, feeling treasured, social interaction--and SNACKS, by golly. 

"People make bad choices when they're mad or scared or stressed..." -Wise Trolls

Does any of this absolve her of or change the fact that she straight up broke a serious rule when she slapped her buddy? NO. Does it mitigate how we chose to discipline her? NO again. Does it add another separate layer to the situation? Yes.

Parenting isn't a zero sum game. Obviously Layla having her heart hurt doesn't give her a free pass to make bad choices (the classic "there's no excuse for that!" comes to mind). We have to handle the behavior and the heart. One phone call becomes two very different parenting tasks.

This is tiring and daunting and does not come easy to me. It's more efficient and mathematically tidy to just call it a wash: you had crappy stuff happen to you, and you did something crappy because of that. Even Steven. But almost every parent who is actually trying knows that's not going to work. When she's 17 and her boyfriend dumps her and she decides to shoplift some holographic nail polish because she's sad (the future has cool things) she WILL go to space jail. This stuff doesn't wash out (nor does holographic nail polish, I bet), it doubles down, it finds a way out, and the older you get the yuckier and scarier those ways out become.

It's not a wash, so we have to address it.

But we can't stop with JUST addressing the slap either, and saying, "we don't care WHAT you were feeling, you NEVER slap!" Because, while basically true, I'm betting what she hears and internalizes the most is the "we don't care WHAT you were feeling" portion of that statement.

I am betting that because I have felt that. "You and your feelings don't matter, just stop screwing up."

She'll come up with another outlet for her painful feelings because pain always has to go somewhere. The slapping is a symptom. Sure, it's expedient and necessary in the moment to treat symptoms, but real healing is out of reach if we stop there and don't treat the source of the infection. 

Two things we have to parent now: her heart and the slap.

Feelings and Actions. Our brains are REEEEEALLY good at mashing them together.

As parents, Jesse and I want to work to detangle these two things from each other; to bring attention to, and help the kids learn to identify and separate what they're feeling from what they decide to do about it. Because, without ever intending it, she merged them (we all do): I am feeling hurt, so it's okay for me to hurt someone else. 

My entire adult life has been spent trying to chop that thinking in half. To throw on the brakes and say, "Whoa, let's stop at 'I'm hurt' part and address that." Because honestly, it just feels better and easier and less risky to go around slapping people rather than talking about how I felt rejected and alone and un cared-for. 

That is called VULNERABILITY and both our lizard brains--that help us survive in the wild, and our sinful hearts--that say  "you can be a god and have the power," throw up unending resistance to showing it. 

It took me YEARS to realize that I am actually not simply an angry person. I am a deeply sensitive person with a soft heart who takes rejection or refusal (perceived or real) as a negation of my basic value. That's a scary proposition to stare in the face and my lizard brain was not about to let me show this "weakness."

But you know what isn't scary? Going on the attack.  I medicated pain by just getting super pissed super fast at anyone who hurt me. The knife in your back doesn't hurt so bad when you're flailing about with brass knuckles. Of course you also don't get the knife out or help heal the damage, but who cares as long as it makes you feel better right now?

So Layla's slap: what did we do? Ironically, something like this had JUST happened to me a few days earlier. I had felt incredibly rejected by someone that I treasure and had ended up crying about it! I am 33 year old and was crying about my friend not liking me enough (and yes, my first thought still was "Imma unfollow her on Instagram, block her on FB and NEVER talk to her again" because I'm basically a  maturity expert).

I told Layla about my heartbreak after she described what happened. I asked her if that was kind of how she had felt, like the people that she loved didn't love her back? She said it was. Then Judah chimes in, "I have felt that way too. It feels like everyone in the world is against you." Whoa. We're having a moment here! (Jesse had gone back to work at this point).

Layla lost privileges as a result of slapping her friend. But, while that was very important, we only spent maybe 5 minutes on that part before we felt like it was covered. We spent far more time talking about her heart and what makes it feel cared for and what makes it feel scared or empty. We talked about what to do in case she feels those painful feelings again, and how to stop them before they take over. 

If we'd freaked out and given away her barbie dolls or done something major to punish her and make the lesson stick, I bet she'd remember better and would never slap again. I  bet that memory would stay with her for a long, long time. Not in a good way. And honestly, she probably won't even remember the talk we had about feelings. But it's one more brick in something bigger we want to build. That gives her a firm foundation of knowing that her parents are a safe place for her heart. That she is loved and treasured and valuable.

Demolishing something is so much faster than building something, but it leaves rubble and nothing. We want to leave substance.

We don't want her to be so afraid to mess up that she does things right. We want her to be so secure in who she is and how she's loved that it naturally spills over into her decisions and the way she treats people. 

Layla decided to write an apology to her friend. She can't spell so Judah scribed while Layla dictated. It smells like purple Mr. Sketch: a grape paradise. It smells like fearless love.

  "People make bad choices when they're mad or scared or stressed...but throw a little love their way, and you'll bring out the best" -Wise Trolls.


Reno-Inspo: Guest Bedroom/Office

We are slowly but surely turning the corner from "DISASTER RELIEF" to "Home Remodel." 

The air smells less of toxic brimstone and more like yummy new lumber/drywall. I have already met with the flooring company and the cabinet guy and have been really impressed by the speed and work ethic of our contractor. 

So much so that I was like, "wait, what? it's time for this stuff?" and started majorly stressing out because, hello, horrible tragedy aside, this is a once in a lifetime chance to redesign our home basically from scratch. I'm terrified of messing something up and blowing our one shot at a free (ish) build.What if I accidentally order purple tile throughout the whole house!?!

Obviously the good Lord invented Pinterest for such a time as this. It was time to take all those pins I've been amassing over the years and move them from "oh cool, maybe one day" into "ok, show this to the builder on Monday" pile...or more likely the "what the hell was I thinking pinning this, I can't have a bespoke reclaimed pallet ferret kennel  in my mudroom! (bc pinterest is drunk sometimes).

I never understood why anyone who is not in Forbes and has a lick of style would pay money to designers to decorate their home. BUT I GET IT NOW. It's a huge leap between pinning a room you see once and "love" and building/designing/sourcing/buying each element yourself to create an overall look. 

Lucky for me, all my hobbies burned down, so this is all I have to do!

After much pinning and browsing and drooling and comparing and imagining, I have started to put together mood boards for a few rooms in the house. These are basically a fun way to see all my pins sort of together as a cohesive space and tinker until the overall look is something we like. Just because a bohemian loft and and industrial condo look good beside each other as Pinterest pins doesn't mean they'd play nice in a room together IRL. Thus, we need the mood boards.

I am realistic enough to know that the final rooms may look nothing like my original ideas, but just feeling inspired and energized about CREATING again, after so much emotional and physical currency has been spent on cleaning/saving/salvaging, is a wonderful change of pace. Plus, I can always come back and laugh at how far off I was later on.

Guest Bedroom/Downstairs Office & Study:

Needs: House overnight guests as needed and be a cozy study for Jesse to write in. 

This room gets great light so we can go with a darker paint color. 

Masculine enough that Jesse and male guests don't feel like this is the TigerBeat break room, but feminine enough that it is NEVER accused of being a man cave.

Desk Lamp // Desk // Pillow // Chair // Floral Prints // Floor Lamp // Bookshelves // Throw // Ottoman // Rug // Trundle Sofa // Mirror // Corner Shelves

Leather+Wood+Flowers with a Midcentury glaze over it all. My instinct is to lather myself in Midcentury everything because I love the style so much, but I feel like that trend can only hold so long and don't wanna be left holding Don Draper's jock when the dust settles and 1959 is no longer the chic look.

I love it so much that I already find myself wanting to sneak away into this room. That's a good sign.

 Hopefully the entire house will feel that way when we're done. Whenever that may be...Spring Break 2017?

For now, here's a solid BEFORE:

This is in the living room, looking through the artist formerly known as Wall, at the guest bedroom last week. NO WHEELBARROWS IN THE HOUSE, YALL.



The day after Jesse and I did a "final" walkthrough of the burnt house (to get out anything in there that was deemed ruined, but that we still wanted to hang onto), he went back over while the demo guys started trashing everything left inside and beginning to tear out all the yucky fire stuff.

The garage is where the fire was--the only place flames actually destroyed. Everything in there was a total loss. 

Incredibly,  in the months before the fire, Jesse had taken a weird interest in keeping the garage organized and neat. Ever since we had moved in last summer, we had bins of stuff on the shelves in there and just recently, he had smartly decided to move these up into the crawlspace/attic above the garage since we rarely, if ever, needed the things inside. That way we could make room for boxes of diapers and paper products that we use regularly.

What was in those bins he moved? 

Our childhoods. Bins of sentimental things from before the internet existed.Photo albums, scrapbooks, art projects, random hilarious notes, our baby clothes, a newspaper from the day I was born; all the things we had decided during the course of our lives to NOT throw away and to keep with us.

Found in my frilly pink bible cover/carrier. Probably written when I was 8-9.

You would think a bunch of plastic bins filled with paper in the attic above the garage would have melted and burned just as fast as the boxes of diapers and toilet paper in the garage itself, not 6 feet below. Hot air rises, after all.

But somehow they didn't. 

The bins got pretty trashed and warped and straight up melted in some places, but the stuff inside was for the large part safe and we had taken those melted bins full of memories over to the rental house a few days before, content that the oldest of our things were safe.

When we left after our last sweep of the house I had a nagging fear and got a bit emotional knowing there were probably things inside that we had missed and would be thrown out. 

So when Jesse texted me on demo day and told me he had found a few more sentimental things while he was poking around, I figured it was a kid's drawing or a photo or two from high school.

What he actually found, that I didnt even realize was missing, was actually one of my most sentimentally treasured possessions I will ever own.

My grandmother's diary from 1938 and 1939. 

It must have tumbled out of one of the open corners of the melted bins and into the rubble when the insurance guys were moving it all down. I have no idea how Jesse spotted it with just a flashlight it since the diary is dark blue and the garage is totally blackened rubble and completely in the dark thanks to being boarded up. 

There are so many utterly magical things about this diary (which I was given when I was in college, 10 years after she had died).

Um she went to see the original King Kong in theaters. Is that the coolest thing you've ever heard?!?!

My grandmother was born Genoa Hall in 1924. Her two married names were Vincent and Parks. Vincent is my maiden name and Parks is the last name of my beloved (step)grandfather Fred whom she married after her husband, my dad's dad,  my Granddaddy Wallace, died--well before I was born.

She was my hero and my ultra favorite and I adored her more than any other person growing up. Noa is named after her for good reason.  Holding something in my hands that her sweet hands held so often almost 80 years ago is priceless to me. Reading her words is awe-inspiring and hilarious (note: 14 year old girls are loco no matter the era). 

Getting to know what she was like and what she did day-to-day decades before I knew her, when she was still a kid in a lot of ways turns my head with magic. Despite being barely a teenager, she was often in charge of the cooking for her whole family--she was the youngest of 13. "Kids" back then were legit capable, and had baller penmanship.

She grew up in Atlanta and diary overlaps SO many places that I spent time at while I was at Tech and even today. Ponce de Leon, The Fox, Kirkwood.  Her address in the front cover is the same street as the restaurant where Jesse and I had our first date.

I am kind of obsessed with the WW2 and surround era so reading ANY diary from that period would be fascinating to me, and the fact that it is my beloved grandmother's account is unreal. Granted, there's not a lot of political or world event commentary, but just seeing "Sears Roebuck" and "weenie roast" and mentions of "listening to 'Gangbusters' on the radio program" makes me just want to powder my nose, put on a pointy bra and travel right back to that time.

I LOVE that she doesn't scratch out the old names when she adds new ones. Gotta keep those options open!

If you look in the bottom right area, you see "Wallace," my grandfather's name written just once. Her longtime steady boyfriend during this time for Bobby Lynes, who competed with "Ed" and maybe "Ralph" in her heart, but she was friends with Ruth Vincent, who was Wallace's younger sister. It's so fascinating to see her swoon over all these boys on the pages, and then her actual future husband appears every now and then in the most ordinary scenes, "Ruth and I went for a ride. Wallace was there." I'm like, LOL, girl, that's your man!!! It makes me feel trés McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.

Granted, it does say KEEP OUT (please), but surely she didn't mean to keep it off the internet! So many boys' names!!! This is so mind-blowing because she was the most capable, grounded, sharp woman; to know that even she was a boy crazy teenage girl spins my head and makes me realize what I'm headed for raising two of these creatures. 

March 26, 1938  "I found out that Sue liked Bobby. Father in heaven, I pray that I will win." 

As a descendent of her + NOT BOBBY, I gotta thank the heavenly father for not answering that particular plea.

Whoops, mispelling your own future last name. Classic mistake!

"Dorothy said something about me. The old ______!! Shes an enemy of mine. She just doesn't like me. I think she's jealous"

"The funniest thing has happened- Dopey Barber asked me to go 'steady' with him with I didn't even like him"

Dorothy and Genoa were basically the T. Swift/Katy Perry "Bad Blood" of their time. And I feel for Dopey Barber and hope she let him down easy.

I know what it is to be a 14 year old girl. To imagine your husband and future life (and to get it blessedly wrong 99.9% of the time). To compare my experience of that part of my life to hers is unreal.

I wish I had a diary of hers from when she was raising my dad and my aunt (and when her 3rd baby died a few days after she had him). Heck, I wish I had anything that let me know her more. 

In some ways this diary is like reading her blog, and naturally I imagine and wonder if anyone farther down my genetic pipeline will ever read these words and marvel at being the someones in my life that arent even born (if you are one of these, reading in the future, I'm sorry I just bent your brain with that thought, and I hope you guys have weeded out the acne and paleness that my people suffer).

Getting these glimpses into her head in 1938, as I sit here with 25% of her DNA making me who I am in 2016, brings tears to my eyes. Somehow holding this little depression-era firecracker in my head alongside the knowledge that she is currently and has been with Jesus for over 20 years now, and all that happened in between is almost more than my heart has the capacity to have awe over.

Life is such a mind trip and I hope heaven includes infinity of these moments of knowing each other's experiences and hearts ever and ever deeper.

I am dizzy with gratitude that Jesse discovered my Mano's (her grandma name) diary. I would leave my iPhone or a giant pile of cash behind to the flames a hundred times over before I would willingly part with this treasure (cousins, if you're reading this, please to rob me to take it away from me. I grant you unlimited visitations and readings!).

P.S. Descendants: if you ever find anything I wrote at any point before 1999, you are honor bound BY MY DNA to destroy it and definitely not publish it on the Internet (or whatever media your ape overlords allow you). Grammy k8 was a very unstable tween.


What Happened.

A week ago today, our house burned. 

I've already told the story so many times that I can barely fathom ever forgetting the details, but my selective memory has surprised me before so I figured I'd put it all down in writing. And maybe pass out slips of paper with this URL on it so I don't have to keep telling it.

9:39 am. Sewing, spreadsheeting, and being adorable.

I work from home on Mondays ("coincidental" miracle #1 of dozens). At 9:54 (thank you, Nike+ for reliable data) I took Noa for a run/walk/stagger in our neighborhood. I was slower than ever before as I had strep and was only 3 doses into my Z-pack, but it felt so good to get out and exercise for the first time in days. Noa was also getting over croup that the docs said might turn into ear infections, so we were carrying a large payload of snot and blah between us.

The first messages are from the weekend before, when she as feeling yuck. Then Monday, the day of the fire I am telling him about my speed record.

She was a sweet dream as usual the entire time. I always take the double jogging stroller instead of the single so that I can pile the empty spot with her blankies and books for her to choose from. By the time I pulled the stroller back into the garage and shut the big garage door, she was out. I considered letting her keep snoozing there in the stroller while I worked inside with the door open. But I was feeling so great after the exercise (despite not being able to breathe out of my nose still) that I wanted to play with her some more before she went down for her real nap. 

We went inside and I shut the inside garage door behind me, not caring that it wasnt all the way clicked into the catch, but just closed and resting against the jamb. Our house is so well insulated that it takes a major slam to fully shut that door.

We took a bath and played and I did some work. I put Noa down for her nap around 11:15. As usual she made not a peep and was thrilled to rest in her cozy darkened cave (Layla's walk in closet is where her crib lives and she ADORES going to bed there, almost never fussing when it's nap or bedtime). 

I started a pot of beans and rice on the stove and sat down to answer some work emails and sew beach bags in between. My Etsy shop was going bonkers this summer and I had 24 open beach bag orders I was working on. 

At 12:06 PM the fire alarm system started blaring. My neighborhood has a Facebook group just for the moms and it seems like every month someone is talking about these loco smoke alarms setting themselves off and how to turn them off. We had already had a few false alarm blare-sessions, even only living there 10 months. So I texted Jesse (he works a half mile away) to come help me get them deactivated (he always does it for us when they go off). I left my phone next to my laptop and sewing machine and ran up to the alarm closest to Noa's room to get it turned off ASAP so she could keep sleeping.

The fire alarms are often on PCP/angeldust. Let's be clear that I summoned him home for what I thought was a "false" alarm to help me shut them off. I may not be an easy wife to work with.

I managed to turn off the klaxon blaring in the playroom, but all the others kept chirping. I headed downstairs to try to stop the chirp, and blammo, the klaxon wailing started back up on all of them. I was super annoyed that our system is hardwired together at that moment.

Halfway down our stairway, the side wall opens up for a view of the living room and kitchen, and as I looked left and down into that area, I saw nasty brown smoke crawling along the first floor ceiling. My instant thought was that somehow I burned the rice and beans--even though they had water in them still AND the kitchen was in the other direction from where the smoke was coming from. My next split second thought was, "oh my shit, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Okay, you have trained for this."

I sprinted back upstairs and flung myself into Noa's room, where she was standing peacefully (not even kidding, just silently standing happily at the rail with her blankie) up in her crib. My vision was completely tunnel. My memories of these moments are like I was looking through a paper towel tube.

In this moment, I figured this was probably a small electrical fire or something very containable that was just spewing smoke..

I snatched her out and booked it down the stairs. The blaring and chirping alarms that had enraged me moments earlier for waking my baby were now sweet, sweet music that had saved us, but were ramping up my adrenaline nevertheless

My studio/office is right by the front door so I grabbed my phone and my laptop on my way out. I had a split second thought of "should I take my sewing machine? it's right there! OMG no, you need a bra before anything!" but years of fire drills and training were deeply embedded and nothing beyond "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT" could get through the panic and make me spend another moment in there while I was holding my baby.

I tossed my laptop down on the doormat and headed up the driveway. When I walked past the closed garage it sounded like people were in there beating on the inside of the door (my first thought was on Walking Dead when there are zombies contained somewhere but they get woken up and start trying to get out). For a second I thought OMG, the dogs are in there, but then realized they were safely way back in the huge back yard. I also realized that a contained, little fire wouldn't make the massive garage door jump and pulse like that.

As I went past, the door magically opened up (heat triggered, I would learn) and I saw our golf cart inside fully engulfed in massive flames. A few seconds of me standing there, and it slowly closed again, as if it just wanted to give me a glimpse. 

I text jesse at 12:08 (so only 2 minutes have passed since the "false" alarm text I sent him...this is all happening far faster than telling the story) as I am running up out of our yard, telling him to call 911. Well, genius, you're texting him on a TELEPHONE, and youre the one who knows what is happening, so maybe you wanna call.

Even as I sent this, I was a little afraid he wouldn't believe me. I have been known to text him "911 EMERGENCY, PICK UP PHONE" about cheese and hem lengths.

I called 911 and, hand to God,  THEY EFFING TRANSFERRED ME! We live right on the county line and my cell phone was connected to a Fayette tower, but Coweta is where we live and is the emergency services that serve us. So I gave my address immediately--thinking OMG why dont yall have caller ID YOU SHOULD REALLY LOOK INTO THAT! ITS TAKING ME SHEER MINUTES TO SAY MY ADDRESS. And she says "ok youre actually in Coweta, let me transfer you." 

Lord help me if that tape ever leaks, I was a messy mess-mess and have no idea what I said. I was every inch of the braless, barefoot lady with a baby on her hip that you always see on the news. I used to judge these women like, "Get it together, girl!" Now these women are my tribe. 

I'm on the phone with 911 taking it very personally every time the lady tells me to calm down, and saying at least 50 times, "ok my son is at school, my daughter is at school, the dogs are out back, I am holding the baby, my husband is at work. We are ALL OUT."

At this point a few cars had driven down on our road and seen the scene. A man got out and offered to move our van which was parked right in front of the closed garage door. The keys were inside hanging near the kitchen away from the fire, but I still wasn't comfortable sending any non-fire-trained people in there for any reason. 

At maybe 12:10 I see Jesse come flying down the road. There is a car between him and me: an older man in a restored El Camino creeping along as he rubbernecks. I am holding Noa, yelling at 911, and standing on the sidewalk 2 doors down from our house, right alongside Jesse's car. I see the man in front of him stop so as not to enter the scene of the fire.

And then for the love of all, I see his reverse lights come on. 

His windows and Jesse's are down. I am 4 feet away and I start yelling, "NO NO NO, JESSE HE'S BACKING UP!"

BAM! He totally rams Jesse. All flipping hell breaks loose. Nothing in my life will ever come as close to tmy favorite cold open scene from The Office as that moment did. I've watched it so many time that my brain immediately suggested "SAVE BANDIT!" and  "THE FIRE IS SHOOTING AT US!" as appropriate reactions:


I hear the 911 lady say something about sending cops for the pedestrian down, but am too out of my mind to process it. I am trying to get the tag of the guy's car and see if our car is damaged or if Jesse is hurt, and oh, ya know,  MY HOUSE IS STILL BLAZING UNIMPEDED! Not to mention several more sweet passersby are trying to help by grabbing our exterior hose and watering the garage.


At maybe 12:12 the first police arrive. I'm like, "AHHHHH I love you officers, but I NEED HOSES!!! Where are your red brethren!?!"

A few officers start blocking off the road to traffic and another comes up to me to ask where the pedestrian hit and run victim is. And I'm like, "Oh no, my husband was in a car and it was a low speed fender bender that just bent our Georgia Tech plate. Everyone is fine. No biggies here, office! Situation normal. Oh right, unless you count the conflagration. But you don't have hoses, so that's not really your problem, LOL. *pause* You DEFINITELY, don't have hoses, right? I just have to ask."

I cannot stress the amount of shocked mess I was. 

Jesse hugs me and I ask him maybe 36 more times if he is SURE the kids are at school and there's no chance any other humans are still inside. I start crying, because I don't have to be to sole grown up on duty anymore and have a little margin to let some of the situation sink in for a second while he's holding me. Jesse says "it's just stuff, nothing that matters is hurt." And I'm totally like, "huh?" because honestly, besides the sewing machine gut reaction at the very start, it hadn't even occurred to me that our stuff was destroyed. I was crying from relief, from panic rebound, from the "what could have beens?"

I remembered Jesus for maybe the first time in all this (not proud of that) and just say "thank you for this, jesus" into Jesse's shoulder. It was so mechanical and had absolutely no gratitude or any emotion attached to it, but I knew it was a moment to thank him--completely aside from the lack of injury. That's a pretty weird thought process, but it has stuck with me since then.

Jesse decides to go up to the house for a closer look, and maybe move the van, and I'm like JESSE, YOUR BEAUTIFUL ROMAN STATUE FACE! NO!!!! BACK AWAY FROM THE FLAMES!

We are standing there for what felt like an eternity watching really nasty smoke billow out. At least 6 police cars have arrived by now and an ambulance then pulls up. I'm like, AHHHH I love yall so much, but you are just not the exact type of hero I need at this moment. 

At some point the 911 lady was like, "ok it sounds like officers have arrived, since they have tasers and handcuffs, imma let THEM deal with you instead of me."

FINALLY the first fire trucks pull up. The garage door has collapsed completely by now and smoke is just pouring out. Jesse actually said that when he first pulled up he saw it coming out of our bedroom window, which is as far from the garage as you can get in our home.

12:24 pm Fire trucks, The house ablaze, Jesse's newly dented car parked in the neighbors driveway.

The fire guys come up and ask for a few crucial details like if there's gasoline or propane in the garage (no and yes). They hook up to the hydrant on our lot and start dousing the house.

The entire church staff (Jesse's coworkers) are now here with us along with my good friend Jennie who was jogging by when she spotted the smoke. This "random" group of people contains some of Jesse and my closest friends and it was pure comfort. They sprang into action getting the dogs away, playing with Noa, finding me a bra (my first concern) and shoes,and every other manner of things. They were just *with us* in the best possible way. My sister in law lost her childhood home to fire when she was in high school and she was there with my nieces as well. Besides those first few seconds, we never had to be alone in this (and even then; I know I wasnt).

At this point, the fire is basically out. I am watching--bizarrely--from another neightbors driveway in a folding camp chair like a soccer mom. I even have cookies and capri sun. I am still holding onto Noa and clutching he and kissing her so gratefully at intervals...and like 1% using her as a bra coverage. I had wandered away from most of our people since the trucks were now blocking our view. My anti-social introversion is pretty well known, so I wasn't followed until it was clear I was ready to be around people, so I weirdly as some alone here, with Jesse checking in every few minutes.

My view from the bleachers.

At some point I heard one of our people on the phone with someone and tey said, "She's okay, but she is pretty out of it. I think she's in shock." And I was like, "oh, man I wonder who's in shock, I hope theyre okay." Ha. 

the fire inspector called me over to talk about what had happened and of course the first thing I said was "I don't have on a bra." which made him ultra comfortable. And then during our interview, I managed to say "I totally wouldn't arson myself while my baby was sleeping. Well I mean, obviously I wouldn't arson at all. OMG I totally didn't do this, I just get nervous with authority figures. Please don't arrest me."  What if I get myself arrested for having no filter and just saying whatever pops in my head?!

Our first responders.

Somehow the van was perfectly fine, not even a hint of smoke inside.

At about 2 pm, the house was completely checked and cleared and we were able to go inside. At this point I was still thinking we'd sleep there that night, and they'd just close off the garage. Whoops, someone is ignorant about fires. The chief is walking with us towards the house and says "completely gutted" and "all the contents are ruined" and I'm like not computing. 

Then we walk in and I start to get it*. 

 The garage. Pretty much the only location of the flames themselves. 

They think the golf cart is where it started (dont ask me any more, because I dont know and the investigation is still open, but it was probably just a freak thing). All that white insulation is where the firemen axed through to check to be sure no ancillary fires were lurking. If you look just to the right of the gorl cart, there's a white square next to what looks like a bike tire. That's actually the book Noa had been reading in the stroller during our walk. The metal square shape is what's left of the stroller that I had considered letting her nap in.
The vehicle formerly known as XF-17 (golf cart. named by Judah)

As if they weren't heroic enough. Before they started hosing down the interior of the house to be sure no sparks or latent fires were in the walls, they took down our big family canvas pic so it wouldnt be water damaged.

This is the guest bathroom. When you walk in from the garage, this door is immediately to your left. The blinds melted off the window.

Keep going down the hall and just across from the garage door is the guest bedroom. The blinds and fan melted (this is when it hit me how hot it had gotten in the house). The bookshelves also melted at the top. That lampshade was a cylinder that morning. It got its waist cinched.

Looking from the guest bedroom door out to the garage

I went to pick up Layla from school at 2:30 and wait for Judah's bus at church. I knew I was about to live out what would likely become one of their earliest lasting memories, so there was a lot of feelings in me. I sat them down and we listed out the things that mattered most in the world. We talked about the flood that had happened at their grandparents' house last year. Then I told them that our house had burned. And that every single person and animal they love was 100% okay and healthy and fine. Judah let out the biggest "SHWEW" sigh.

I told them that we would have to do without almost all of our stuff and live somewhere else for maybe a long time. They asked about a few belongings (Judah, depressingly was thrilled to report that his iPad had been in his backpack since it was technology day at school so it was safe...ugh. Wish that hadnt been his first thought).  They were both very sad about their quilts that I had made them, and some stuffed animals. Layla mainly focused on remembering toys I havent seen her play with or care about for YEARS. She delightfully random.

We went through what was happy about the situation (pizza for dinner!) and what was sad (we'd have to replace his captain underpants collection...and his actual underpants) and what was confusing (why we couldnt still live there immediately).

They seemed pretty copacetic about the entire thing and were excited to get some new items. Judah exclaimed, "Hooray! LIFE SHOPPING!"

They both immediately said they did want to go in and see the house. It was a a heavy moment watching them go through and tour this new dream house they had first explored for the first time 10 months ago as a brand new castle and now was charred ruins. 

I didnt take a pic of the living room to the left. Kitchen and dining table

She was pointing at something I cant quite remember but was touchingly random.

We just finished repainting the cabinets WHITE!

Headed up the stairs. Noa and Layla's room is on the left and Judah and the playroom on the right. Kids bathroom straight ahead. That bathroom curtain came with the house. 

This still turns my stomach.

You see the grids and dots on the walls? It looks kind of like shadows.  No. They are the studs and the nail heads in them. They got so hot that they scorched through the drywall.

The firemen did a touch test along the walls to check for lurking hot spots. More branded stud lines.

Hook a U-turn at the top of the stairway and follow to the end of the hall and youre at our room

Our bedroom life is SMOKING HOT.  PS, firemen might wanna hose down that body right there, it's making me feel flushed.

This room is as far away as you could get from the fire inside the house and the walls still got so hot that the studs burned lines onto the walls.

The footprints are revealing the actual color of the tile. the rest is soot. This is upstairs, down the hall, through our room and then into the bathroom from where the fire was. Smoke is PERVASIVE.

Standing by the front door in the entryway/foyer. This is my studio. Really wish I had gone ahead and mailed those completed bags there instead of waiting to take an awesome instagram pic of my shipment pile later that day.

"Dear valued customer, I am sorry I won't be able to fabricate your beach bag order as planned. Unless you're reeeeeeally into black ombre effect."

I will write much more about the aftermath and feelings and rebuilding process later I'm sure. But just know, we are seriously SO GREAT. This whole affair has been almost 95% uplifting and 5% stressful and overwhelming. NOT because it's easy. It's horrendous the details and decisions and tasks. BUT THE LOVE has been so much more overwhelmingly huge. I knew people cared about us, but I had no idea how that might look. Well, now I know. It's humbling and has just brought me to my knees in thanks and gratefulness, and weirdly: joy.

We are going to needs tons of help as the months go on--we will essentially have to move at least 2 more times, as well as conduct a custom build of our house (the exterior will stay but the inside will be gutted down to the studs--and even those replaced as needed to be sure no mold or char remains). We will have to catalog and buy all new belonging--and since we are IKEA devotees, we will have to assemble it all over again. That gives me a tension headache a little bit, but I tell myself I will have new non-beige walls to make it all better (anyone handy with allen wrenches wanna come to a meatball party?).

We are going slow, evaluating what we need in any given moment so that we don't break our brains in the chaos (so far the answers for various family members have been: a massage, silence, dark chocolate, golf, mommy/daddy special kissy times, a playdate, another massage, ambien, relay races, a scooter, soda in a sippy cup, throwing up, having a babysitter, one-on-one time with each kid, working, making jokes way too soon about a serious subject and JESUS).

We are staying at my in-laws (by choice, the insurance was very ready to put us in a nice hotel, but hotels with kids are SO stressful for me, and my in-laws go against the grain of the typical cliche, and actually make me feel more relaxed...they are golden superstars).

Jesus is good. He is big and He is good. And just not because we're all safe and insured. But because He is Goodness and Light itself and He's ours and even is this fire had killed us, we are forever saved and protected. Forever.

Much much love,

Keight and the Dukes.

*for reference and to compare, here is a walkthrough video of the pristine, empty house the first time the kids went in, June 29th of last year)