January 18, 2017

The totality (and impact) of losing everything

This is not, by any means, the most lighthearted of topics for my second entry of new year, I know, but I feel that in order to proceed forward and start afresh in my life, I truly need to share these thoughts with all of you.

As we sit here just over half of the way through January, it strikes me that it is entirely possible that the complete impact - insomuch as it pertains to our lives in the much longer run - may not have even fully presented itself yet, but again, I want and need to get some of these thoughts and reflections down on virtual paper all the same.

Most of you are aware that three months ago now, in mid-October, Tony and I lost our home, virtually all of our possessions, and our precious cat, Stella, when an arson fire destroyed the entire fourplex that our home belonged to.

{Exceptionally large volumes of water were required by the local fire department to put the multi-home blaze that destroyed our house out on the night of October 13th. It took several hours, but they were eventually successful in quashing the blaze before it spread to any of the dozens of other condos/townhouses in the immediate area. The end result of such though was that on top of the smoke and fire damage itself, our possessions were greatly harmed by water as well, including over five whole feet worth's that was shot into the basement alone - as you can imagine, everything there was a total write off, as was very nearly everything else in the whole house. Vintage image source.}

In the immediate aftermath, shock and disbelief filled our days. Our brains – or at least mine - fluctuated constantly from feeling completely foggy to clear as a bell. Adrenaline fueled us onward for weeks, sleep was elusive (and fraught with nightmares when it did happen), and we absolutely had to focus on tasks like the arduous insurance claim process, getting an approved removal crew into the burned out remains of our house (this step was required for our insurance claim), and buying those day-to-day staples of life that were most pressing and important.

Amidst this chaos, emotions soared, hearts ached, and a sense of disbelief rang out across the crisp autumn air. One day we had a happy home filled with our belongings, I was running my Etsy shop, our pets were both fine, and we were getting ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary the very next day (October 14th).

Then, that night, everything changed instantly when one person's staggeringly malicious, thoughtless and life threatening act destroyed just about everything under our roof (save, thank goodness, for our own lives and that of our precious dog, Annie).

More than mere things themselves, I was struck almost instantly by the haunting sense that I had lost my very identity (or at least a sizable portion of it) - as well as the cocoon of comfort and serenity that I had build up for myself throughout my adult life.

As a someone who does relentless battle day in and day out with multiple severe chronic illnesses and who is frequently far too unwell to leave the house for days, weeks, and sometimes even months at a time, my home was my beautiful sanctuary. It wasn't huge, but it teemed with items of all sorts that brought me incredible joy and peace, inspiration and comfort.

In many ways, it really did feel like a suit of armour that helped, at least in part, to shield me from whatever life threw our way - that is until it vanished quite literally in a (giant) puff of smoke.

I remember, shortly after the fire, sitting on my parent's couch one morning - borrowed clothing hanging from my exhausted shoulders - and being struck by the fact that I felt an unforgettable mix of numbness, gut wrenching emotion, and as though I was witnessing someone else's life unfold before my eyes, as right then and there, my world no longer felt like my own.

{For the first few weeks immediately following the fire, I felt adrift without my usual wardrobe, surroundings and possessions. It was an alien and vastly unpleasant sensation and one that I would never wish on anyone. Thankfully, the more time that passes, the less this feeling takes center stage. Vintage image source.}

Mercifully, though elements of those feelings all still linger, something astonishing happened to help bring me back to myself: all of you.

From your staggeringly generous monetary donations, to your awesome care packages, to supporting us via the surprise of a lifetime that was the private VSS, literally thousands (in total) of caring emails, private messages, and blog comments, and scores of other amazing ways, the vintage community was there to catch me and Tony and Annie alike as we proverbially fell further and further into the abyss of this tragedy.

Your hands and hearts reached out to us. In some instances we didn't know yet know you, in others we'd been friends for many years, and in others still, we might have only been acquainted for a short while, but no matter what, you were there for us.

It was as humbling and touching a thing as either of us have ever experienced in our entire lives and the mere words "thank you" will never feel like enough to express our deepest of gratitude to all of you.

There is a great totality that comes with losing everything (again, virtually - we estimate that we lost at least 99.95% of everything that we had before the blaze and I really want to stress that, of course, while I'm speaking mostly from a first person perspective here, my darling husband Tony lost everything, too, and was likewise hit to his core by such) - especially when it is caused by someone else's hands and comes completely out of the blue.

"Everything" may be an easy ten letter word to say, but wrapping one's mind around - and fully accepting - what that really means in terms of your home and its contents is another beast entirely.

At first - and to a degree, still even now - the closest thing that my brain could compare how it felt to suddenly not be around my possessions any longer was to liken it to being on a holiday and having lost your luggage en route, thus seeing yo reach your destination with just the clothing on your back.

This was no vacation though - very far from it - and as we came came to grips with what losing everything really did entail, a barrage of emotions, thoughts and pain hit us hard. Yet we persevered.

We were alive and unscathed physically by the blaze, we had each other and Annie, and as dark as things were, a voice deep inside of us kept reminding us that there would be brighter days again - we would just need to be patient and keep working hard to make them happen.

Though most of you know me primarily because of my strong ties to, and passion for, all things vintage and I certainly lost a substantial amount of antique, vintage, vintage reproduction, and vintage appropriate items (some categories of which - such as hats, plastic jewelry, and mid-century novelty print skirts, as well as books, magazines and catalogs - continue to pain me more than I could have ever imagined their loss to do), that was not all that I lost by any means.

Some other key categories of my personal belonging included the following:

-A massive supply of scrapbooking, stamping and other paper crafting related supplies (honestly, I had more than I could probably have ever used in ten lifetimes and it was a collection that I was both proud of and extremely grateful for). As well, all of my completed scrapbooks were lost, too. That cuts to the core, let me tell you.

While fortunately I did have photographs that had been uploaded to Scrapbook.com of some of my finished projects, dozens of pages and cards hadn't been shared publicly yet and as my computer and our external hard drives were all destroyed in the fire, so too were the images of I had of these creations.

The loss of my craft room and its contents is on my mind constantly and, as time goes on, rebuilding a new version of it will be an immense priority for me, as crafting is essential to my happiness, well being, and the state of my health.

-A large supply of jewelry making products, tools, and related items including multiple totes full of vintage findings, cabochons, beads, charms, etc.

-A smaller, but still decent sized, selection of other assorted crafting supplies, including items for cross stitching, embroidery, sewing (sewing machine included), and holiday decor making.

-All of my photography equipment - Canon DSLR, lens, flashes, tripods, stands, backdrops, a white box, camera bags, etc. You name it, it was destroyed.

-Over 600 modern books (and hundreds of vintage ones, too), plus dozens and dozens of crafting and home decor related magazines.

-A substantial collection of Canadian and (to a lesser degree) international Girl Guide and Girl Scout patches, badges, pins, books, uniforms, and other related items, many of which would be next to impossible - due to their scarcity - to replace these days, even if one had Bill Gate's bank account at their disposal.

-A few dozen plush toys (stuffed animals), a few modern dolls (including some Pullips and their wardrobes), and even a few of my childhood toys.

-Oodles of Halloween and Christmas decor (including some family heirloom items), and a smaller array of decor for various other holidays.

-At least three large totes of items from my childhood + teenage years and another couple full of keepsakes, letters, and souvenirs pertaining to my adult life.

-A substantial number of items pertaining to my spirituality.

-Every single item (listed or unlisted at the time of the fire) for my Etsy vintage shop, as well as all of my props, packaging and shipping materials, and every thing else related to my business.

{Like most of us, I had amassed my possessions over the course of many years and listing everything would be quite the task, so I've opted to just focus on some of the key areas here, especially since they're the same ones that I'll be aiming to rebuild collections of from here on out. Vintage image source.}

There are were many other things, too - from family photo albums to 40+ metal cookie cutters, medical supplies to our printer - that were lost, as well scores of the sorts of things that most of us barely even think about on a day-to-day basis, such as toothbrushes, pots and pans, undergarments, vitamins, and countless other items.

As well, in losing my computer and external drive, I lost a great deal of information and images pertaining to my blog, including Word documents that housed hundreds of potential ideas for future blog posts, all of the images I’ve shared here over the years (including photos of myself), drafts of about twenty future blog posts, and research that had been gathered for dozens more.

I want, and need, to mention, that I don't list the physical items above or talk about what I used to own in any sort of (intentionally) bragging or even so-called "humble bragging" kind of way. That is , categorically, the polar opposite of the type of person that I am and I would never want anything that I do or say to come across in that way.

This post is being penning both as a healing tool for myself and, to a degree, for a sense of posterity, as well as to honour, in a way, the memory of those items that were lost.

My collection took a lifetime to amass - a combination of online and in person purchases, coupled with a fair number of items that were amazing gifts from friends, family, CV readers, neighbours, and (in more recent years) blog sponsors, too.

A great deal of what I had was bought on sale and very often even modest items were saved for before being purchased. I never took what I had for granted and was (and still am) immeasurably grateful to have had an abundance of possessions pertaining to so many areas that are near and dear to my heart before the fire.

Given that we were grossly under insured (far more so than we realized before the fire; we would have increased our coverage had we known), we won't be able to replace most of what we lost beyond the bare bones basics of our household needs (dishes, bedding, towels, a table and chairs, etc), nor are we otherwise in an economic position to do so.

This stings, of course, but as I constantly remind myself, once, a fairly long time ago now, I started out with nothing and created the life that I (and later "we") had as an adult.

There was a time when I didn't own a single scrapbooking item, when I could fit all my books into a lone backpack, and further back still, when I was just starting to wear vintage and owned less mid-century pieces than I had fingers on one hand.

Though I never imagined that I'd need to start from scratch again in some many different areas of my life at the age of 32, that I am (doing) and instead of bemoaning what was lost, I am just thankful to be alive and to have the chance to rebuild certain collections over the course of time.

There are many, many factors that will prevent me from most likely having the same sized collections again - at least not for decades - and I accept all of those as best I can.

Some of these factors include things such as that a lot of what I used to own was bought online back when the US and Canadian dollars were on par and (also) USPS postage rates were still reasonable, that there are few to none (depending on the category of items) shops in our town that sell such items, and that that our household budget and expenses are vastly different today than where they were, say, when I was in my mid-twenties. In addition, there is the critical fact that we need to focus our finances elsewhere at present and for the foreseeable future.

It is certainly possible that some categories may never really materialize into collections again (I sense Girl Guide related items may be one such area, for example) and again, others will likely be smaller.

As much as I'd love to go on a giant shopping spree, that isn't even remotely possible. Instead, in what is perhaps a very vintage approved sort of manner, I will gather items slowly and with great though. Each dollar weighed, each purchase contemplated. Baselines, so to speak, of various categories will be - and in some cases, already are beginning to be - established and built upon.

Just as Rome wasn't built in a day (though, much like our old house, it too burned), my future wardrobe and the other areas of my world that matter to me will take time to rebuild.

I am trying to look upon this as challenge as an adventure. A chance to hone in all the more on those areas that matter most to me, to discover new treasures, rewrite wish (and holy grail/unicorn) lists, and not, importantly, feel like I need, by any means, to own as much as I did before.

I loved everything that I had and will miss nearly all of it for the rest of my life, but thankfully in the world at large, there are still lots of most of those types of things to be had and some of them will end up living with me.

We lost so much that night. At first I felt like a fish out of water. My vintage threads were gone, my comfort zone had been obliterated, our wonderful cat's life was taken, and my Etsy business was destroyed. Our lives were on their heads and everything felt out of sorts.

Now, several weeks after the fire, thankfully, a greater sense of order is beginning to enter our world again. We have met - in no small part thanks to the aid of others - many of our basic needs, we have a temporary roof over our heads until at least this March (the search began in full force earlier this month for longer term accommodations, as touched on here), and there is a degree of structure in our world again.

It isn't the same world as before the blaze. That would be impossible. It different. Starkly, extremely different, but it is also positive because we've survived and in time, that survival will, we truly hope, progress to thriving as well.

The unexpected can happen to any of us at any point in time. Tragedy hurts, loss hurts, and devastation hurts. It is important to feel those emotions and not try to brush them off, to live through the process honestly and openly. Yet it is also just as important to believe in the future and yourself. To think positively and focus more on what you still have, then what was stripped away.

There are, and will continue to be, many challenges in our lives that would not have been present if this arson fire didn't occur, but that's okay. We'll tackle them head on, bolstered by the strength of those who care about us and a steadfast belief that we rise up again.

This new year is the ideal time to really begin down that path and I am so thankful that it's here. I have no clue what 2017 holds in store, but I can promise you that it will see us continue to fight, to put the pieces back together, and to reconnect with many things that have been integral parts of our world for a long time now.

{Even when - and arguably even more so - times are tough, there are still valuable constants in our life to focus on and get excited about, and few work better for new beginnings than the annual return of January. Vintage image source.}

Even though my previous belongings are gone, it's awesome that Chronically Vintage and the online community at large that it belongs to are still here. Physical objects matter and there's nothing wrong with that in the slightest, but life, how will fill our days, the relationships we experience, how treat one another, and the way that we lead our lives matter far more.

Thank you for allowing me the chance to share these cathartic thoughts with of all of you here today - very good job, if you've made it this far. I know this wasn't the smallest of blog posts by any means. :)

Here's to 2017 - each day and every hour, the prospects and promises that it holds in store, the many firsts and old favourites alike.

Let us hope that it is not only a good year, but a great one for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world at large. We need it something fierce!

*PS* Thank you very much for as well to everyone who commented on my last post and/or otherwise expressed care and concern regarding my minor surgery last week. I'm happy to report that it went smoothly and that I'm now recovering at home (I'll have my followup doctor's appointment in a few days's time).

My health in general though, as touched on in that same post, is struggling massively in the aftermath of the fire. It took me, for example, more than two full weeks - working in stops and starts, as I could muster the ability to do so - to pen this post. Pre-fire, it would have almost certainly have been written in a single day.

As you can imagine, this situation is currently having a profound impact on my ability to blog or be online in general, and between my health and the continued hectiness and challenges of our lives, my posts here, if possible at all, will be very sporadic and I view this site as still being on indefinite hiatus.

I appreciate your understanding and kindness on this front beyond words.

January 6, 2017

The Christmas surprise of a lifetime, upcoming surgery, house hunting, and Project 365

In late November, I posted here about the fact that, in the wake of the fire, as much as it pained me to do so, I would have to cancel the annual Vintage Secret Santa, as it was simply impossible for us to conduct as usual under the circumstances.

I announced such with a heavy heart, but took solace in the fact that hopefully it's a fun tradition that we'll be able to revive again here in future years. Little did I know that more than a month before I penned that post, my good friend Barbara (one of the tiniest handful of fellow vintage lifestylers to be had here in the Okanagan region of British Columbia) and Tony had teamed up for what proved to genuinely be one the biggest and most incredibly heartwarming surprises of my entire life.

Together they had taken it upon themselves to contact all those who took part in 2015's VSS to let them know about the situation (re: the fire, VSS being cancelled, etc) and to suggest to past participants, if they were so interested, that they could send me a VSS holiday season gift instead of the usual swap between randomly assigned partners. Mind blowingly sweet of them, I know.

From late October to December 24th, I was completely in the dark about this incredibly thoughtful act - including the fact that Barbara and her husband (also a vintage lifestyler himself) were super kindly allowing their house to be used as the address to which participants in what had been dubbed "Jessica's Vintage Secret Santa" (complete with a private Facebook group of the same name) could send their gifts.

On a snowy, yet sunny, bracingly nippy Christmas Eve afternoon, Tony and I went over to Barbara and Jeff's house for what I thought was simply going to be a terrific holiday season visit with dear friends.

You can imagine my profound surprise then, when a few minutes into our get together, Barbara informed me that a sizeable pile of presents nestled beneath one of their Christmas trees was in fact for me/us and proceeded to let me in on the details of how that came to be and the incredible surprise that had been organized on my behalf.

Tears (of joy), shock, trembling, and gigantic smiles all proceeded on my end as I sat on their (gorgeous mid-century) couch in total disbelief.

I am one of those people who tries never to take anything for granted and who is grateful for every single kind thing done towards/for me, so to know that ore than thirty past VSS participants - some of whom had already, extremely generously, sent care packages our way in the wake of the blaze - had teamed up to give me/us the Christmas surprise to end all Christmas surprises was nothing short of overwhelmingly beautiful in the very best kind of way.

I opened some of the gifts that were sent at Barbara's house and then we loaded up the remainder in our vehicle and I unwrapped them as time would permit over the next few holiday season days.

Genuinely, I am still at a loss for words and cannot, really and truly, begin to thank Barbara and Jeff, Tony, and all those involved enough for their profound kindness, love and desire to help give us not just a "good", but a remarkably wonderful holiday season shortly after we lost everything last fall.

Thank you with all of my heart to each and every person who sent a VSS present our way. Some folks included items for Tony and/or Annie as well and we are so appreciative to everyone for their staggering generosity and compassion – as well as to Barbara (pictured below) who worked tirelessly for weeks to help make this surprise a reality.

Much as with the other (non-VSS related) care packages that we've received, you - our dear friends and fellow members of the vintage community - are helping us to rebuild our home and wardrobes (most of which, for example, the festive outfit I'm wearing in these photos, was created from) to no small degree and we are endlessly appreciate to every single person who has sent anything our way over the past nearly three months now since the fire.

Thank you today, tomorrow, and always.

You truly gave me an unforgettable and magnificently positive holiday season. I will never forget it as long as I live and sincerely hope that we can revive the group based VSS for 2017 and beyond, so that all those who wish to do so can send and receive gifts themselves, too.

{And a shot of Picasso, Barbara and Jeff's adorable cat, who was such a good kitty - never once laying a paw on the presents piled 'round the Christmas tree.}

House hunting

As many of you know, we were very fortunate to find a temporary home quite quickly after the fire, moving into our current digs precisely one month to the day since that fateful night.
As it is indeed a short term rental though, the quest to find something (hopefully!!!) more permanent has begun this month and we've already been into view some places.

The real estate market - both from renting and home buying perspectives - has utterly skyrocketed in terms of pricing here in the Okanagan over the past few years (it's not uncommon for houses to go for 25 - 50+ % more today than they did less than a decade ago) and what little does exist - especially that permits dogs - at a quasi-decent price is snapped up faster than you can say "sold".

We're working with a modest budget and have certain housing needs that must be met, but are certainly trying to be as flexible as possible and do believe that a good match will come our way before we need to leave our temporary rental house.

At the time of the fire we were living in Penticton, in the heart of the Okanagan, which is one of the local areas with the steepest housing costs, so while it is certainly included in our hunt, we have cast a relatively wide net of about three hours in various directions and are diligently searching high and low throughout.

I (we) will definitely be sharing the good news when we do find our next place and hope that such will happen at least fairly quickly. Please keep your fingers crossed for the three of us.

Hospital time again

This coming Tuesday, I'll be going into the hospital again for (thankfully, quite minor) surgery once again. Usually I don't even bring up such small procedures, which are part and parcel to my life as a multiple chronic illness fighter, here, but as I know such will have a further impact on my ability to be online in the coming weeks, I wanted to mention it today with all of you.

Rest assured that this procedure has nothing to do with the fire. It was booked back in mid-August 2016 and should - knock wood - be something that only takes a few weeks to recover from.

In general though, my health has taken one heck of a serious beating in the aftermath of the fire.

Initially I was quite literally getting through each day on a combination on adrenaline, shock and sheer grit, but as more time went on, greater than usual (for me) levels of physical activity persisted, and the continued emotional impact of what had happened to us really started to hit home, my health took a massive nose dive from which it has not really begun to improve (to my pre-fire levels, I mean).

It remains to be seen just to what extent this situation will have on my life and blogging (which, officially, remains on hiatus for the time being) in the long run. I will of course continue to let you guys know here and am trying to give myself as much time to rest and recoup as circumstances will permit (which, to be frank, isn't always a great deal).

Project 365 photo challenge

My health, rebuilding our lives, house hunting, and recently the holiday season have been/are at the heart of our lives right now and will continue to be for quite some time to come.
In the midst of such though, I thought it would be fun to *try* and do a Project 365 iPhone photo a day challenge over on Instagram.

I've taken the approach of pairing each Project 365 image that I share with a quote that fits, to my mind, the image and welcome you to follow me there, if you're not already doing so, to see what I share.

Though, back in 2011, I tried to blog here every day of the year (in an experiment that I called Vintage 365), I've not done a Project 365 before with photos and love that it gives me a chance to share more of my world - the natural beauty of the Okanagan Valley very much included - with all those who tune into my Instagram account.

It will be fascinating to look back at the end of 2017 and witness what really caught my eye each day throughout 2017 (I should point out that, naturally, I do plan to share other none #project365 snaps there still, too).

♥ ♥ ♥

My dear, wonderful friends, as we embrace this first week of the new year, please know that I am grateful for each of you, your support, understanding, kindness, and generosity.

Last year was a doozy for so many of us and Tony and I were, by no means, the only ones to face great hardship. The world in general was put through the ringer, too, and I'm sure that many of us share our immense happiness over the fact that 2017 is here at long last.

Though none of us know what the future holds in store for us, I enter this year with steadfast optimism, determination and hope that it a better, safer, healthier, happier one for all of us.

Thank you again for each unforgettable and poignant way that you've been there for us.

Both myself and Tony want to wish you all a stellar New Year and look forward to connecting with you in whatever ways we can throughout the coming twelve months.