Monday, December 9, 2013

Moving Forward after the Washington, IL Tornado

I'm trying to decide if the last 3 1/2 weeks have gone by quickly or slowly.  I guess it probably depends on the day & time.  As I shared on November 19th, our house in the US was completely leveled by a tornado.  We've been through many emotions since then, but we did not loose as much as our neighbors and friends.  Our house is gone, but we are so fortunate that our memories and belongings were not scattered to the four winds. We are not digging through the rubble and our day-to-day lives have not been altered.  There is a bit of guilt (survivor's guilt?) mixed with gratefulness in this situation.

For some reason I really thought I would only need about a day to fully process everything (what was I thinking?!)  Instead, I spent a full 5 days completely engrossed in Facebook and trying to absorb any piece of information that I could and try and walk alongside those that were hurting.  Technology can be such a waste of time and distraction, but in this situation it has been helpful, healing and encouraging.  I always liked the community we had in Washington, but I have fallen in love all over again.  People have banded together and supported each other in such amazing ways.  

I almost passed by one of the posts on Facebook that showed 60 aerial photos of the tornado damage.  I wasn't sure if I could take in any more photos, but I am glad I clicked on the link because it gave me the best view of what our house looked like after the tornado.

Our subdivision...

Our street and our home...

Since the tornado, we have been in contact with our insurance agent, the insurance adjuster, friends helping coordinating the clean-up of our home, our renters and family. (The 14 hour time difference makes things a little more difficult.)  In the midst of all of that, I woke up one morning and saw that I had gotten my monthly update from Zillow on our Westminster home.  Zillow is a website that tracks real estate and it showed me this...

Now the estimate decrease was actually not related to the tornado, but I still managed to mutter something under my breath that was neither kind, helpful or spiritual!   

It has been hard for us to be so far from friends and neighbors and not be able to give them hugs, encouragement and help them clean-up.  But, we were able to "Wear Orange for Washington".  Orange and black are Washington High School's colors and people have been encouraged to wear orange to show support for the people of Washington.  Even though it is a small gesture, we were really excited to wear orange as a family to show our support.

Washington Strong
The support didn't stop at our apartment.  Jamie's co-workers in China also wore orange for Washington!  Very sweet!  They have also been raising money for the Red Cross in the United States.

Our renters and friends have started cleaning up our lot for us.  They have put in many hours of hard work looking for lost personal items, hauling debris to the curb and cleaning up our yard. 

Looking from the "kitchen" to the backyard.

 Looking from the laundry room to the north and what is Westminster Street.

Standing in the front living room and looking to the south-west, including the stairwell to the basement.

Looking from the west towards our garage.

Thank you to Barry Heisey, his skid steer and clean-up crew.  We are forever grateful to the support you have given to us!

We love to see Cat machines at work!

When I first saw this picture it took me a few moments to figure out what I was looking at.  This is taken from the south of our house and the electrical green box was at the edge of our property.  It used to be surrounded by trees, pea gravel, a fire pit and several small shrubs.

Where, oh where did all that pea gravel end up?

 Looking towards our neighbor's house to the east.

 Looking from the backyard towards Westminster Dr.

Part of the clean-up crew.

Hard at work.

And, what remains…the basement.

In the weeks and months to come I will begin posting about our life in China again and the adventures we are experiencing on this side of the globe.  But, never doubt for a moment that we are not continually thinking and praying for our friends and neighbors in Washington.

Washington strong!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where To Start? The November 17, 2013 Washington, IL Tornado

Where do I even begin?  In a million years, I never thought I would be writing about this.  For those that follow the blog, but aren't connected with me on Facebook, the community that Jamie and I lived in before we moved to China was hit by a devastating tornado this past Sunday.  One report I read said that over 400 homes were affected and entire neighborhoods were leveled.  But, the miracle of it all, is that only one fatality has been reported.  It could have been so much worse.

Washington, IL was our home for 10+ years before we became expats and moved to China.  Jamie and I moved to Washington and into our first home (a teeny-tiny 1 1/2 story bungalow) 6 months after we were married.  We met great people, found a wonderful church and began building our life there.  Some of our closest friends are in Washington.  The kind of friends that walk through adulthood with you; new jobs, babies, adoption questions and paperwork, a move overseas and everything else life throws at you.

In 2009 we had 2 young children and we were still living in our bungalow house.  We felt a little cramped and it looked as if our opportunities to move overseas with my husband's company had all fallen through.  We bought our second home in Washington, a bigger 2 story home, in an established subdivision with no cookie-cutter homes and lots of mature trees.  We thought we were staying put!  Surprise, two years later we were presented with the opportunity to move to China and we took it.  Some expats sell their homes when they move overseas, but we chose to keep our house and rent it while we were overseas.  (It was supposed to be a short 18-24 month assignment.  We're now at the 2 1/2 year mark.)  It was our plan to return to our house on Westminster.  While we've been in China we've been very fortunate to have some renters living in our home.  

Before I show you pictures, please know that our renters are safe and from what we know our neighbors are safe as well.

This is what our part of Westminster Drive looked like a few years ago...

I am not sure of the location of these exact photos, but our subdivision looks something like this now...

This is what the front of our house looked like before...

This photo is taken from the vantage of looking out our front door.  The green is our roof which now sits in our front yard.

This is LBean in our newly remodeled main floor bathroom shortly after we moved in 2009.

This is what remains.

Living room before we moved.
Living room floor now.

 Dining room before we moved.
Kitchen before we moved.
What remains, you can see the flooring and the row of bushes in the background is what we could see from the window of our kitchen sink.

Looking down the basement steps.

Backyard before we moved...

EBean enjoying our first picnic at our new home in 2009.
This is what the backyard looks like now.  You can see the round bushes on the right side of the photo and match them with the ones in the picture above.

Jamie and I lost a house and that is it.  Our family is safe, our pictures, clothing and other "things" are either with us in China or in storage.  Moving forward, our troubles are very minimal.  Friends from church, MOPS, another mothers group, neighbors and so many others have the huge task of sifting through what remains of their homes and trying to collect all that they can.  My heart is breaking for them.

Many people have sent me messages and asked what they can do and how can they best help people.  At this point, unless you have a connection to a specific family, I think monetarily supporting established groups such as the Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse are probably the best way to help.

As for our family and what remains of our house, I don't know what is next.  I think we sit and wait.  I have contacted our insurance company and they will call us back, some time.  I don't know if we will need to return to the US to look at the property.  I really don't know.

I am so grateful to our friends Steve & Dawn who literally walked up to our home and, not knowing they were talking to our renter, asked the house number of the pile of rubble they were looking at.  They had found our house, talked to our renter, and took the pictures you see above.  Had they not done that we wouldn't have known for over 24 hours how are renters were and we would have no idea what remained of our house.

Thank you to Shanna, my mom, my niece and everyone who texted me and tried calling me in China.  I woke up on Monday morning in China (14 hours ahead of Illinois) to many messages and missed calls because they didn't want me to find out from Facebook what had happened to our house.  Jamie is in Singapore for the week for training, so I called him as soon as I could to let him know what had happened.  

I've spent the last two days on Facebook just reading everyone's posts, watching videos, looking at pictures and trying to feel connected even though we are so far away.  And, for now we wait.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Humble Administrator's Garden

This past weekend our family pushed ourselves out of our normal Saturday routine (cartoons, jammies, and crafting at the dining room table) and we visited one of Suzhou's  most famous gardens.  The Humble Administrator's Garden was first built in the 16th century and it is now considered as a World Cultural Heritage Site.  It is one of China's four most famous gardens.

At the entrance:

I'll let you in on a secret, Chinese gardens are fantastic places to take young children.  Our girls love to run, jump, climb, and hide.  The gardens have water, fish, and other things children find fascinating.

Suzhou is known for its embroidery. The finest ones look beautiful from both sides and some are displayed between two pieces of glass so they can be enjoyed from the front and back.  EBean loved this creation with all the flowers.

Our girls enjoyed exploring and finding new "secret" paths.

This structure was built to look like a ship out on the water. 

And the tradition continues, we had more ice cream.  I feel as if we've eaten ice cream all across China.  One of the Chinese mothers told her son he couldn't get ice cream because it would make him sick.  It is fall now and therefore it must be "cold" out even though it was nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit and we were all sweating.

We closed down the garden and headed to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Old Town, Yang Yang's.  The dishes we crave include the steamed dumplings, beef on hot rocks, ma po duo fu (spicy tofu), sweet and sour pork, and spicy green beans.  We tried a new dish this time and I have found a new favorite;pineapple rice served hot in half of a pineapple.  

How are your chop stick skills?
Those are peanuts, by the way!