the incredible shrinking life: a flood, a hotel room, a library

I'm always amazed how when personal upheaval strikes, whether tragedy or happy Big Life Change, your world shrinks down to a tiny little circle. We moved to Canada the day Hurricane Katrina struck, and days later, we were struggling to take in all we had missed. Since the flood four nights ago, the outside world has barely registered on my radar.

So, what has happened to the Laura and Allan Family since I posted those lovely sewage-filled photos?

The aftermath

The flood was Monday night. The Greater Toronto Area received a month's worth of rainfall in the span of a few hours. Water and sewage rushed in through the toilet in our basement, then rushed out again, leaving behind a disgusting mess.

We lost many items stashed in the basement, like suitcases, a vacuum, painting supplies, and whatever else. But much more importantly, Allan's office is in the basement. He salvaged many things... and lost many things. We will get an insurance settlement, but many things are irreplaceable.

Power was restored in Mississauga late Monday night or Tuesday morning. Once we had phone service, it was nearly impossible to get through to insurance companies, and if you did manage to file a claim, no one was available to follow up on it. Cleaning and restoration companies were similarly either impossible to reach or fully booked. We had no hot water.

I worked at home on Tuesday, trying to move our claim forward, while Allan carried boxes of books from the basement to the spare bedroom on the second floor. With my broken foot, I could do little but urge him on. When I went into the library for work on Tuesday night, I felt like I was dreaming. How could all these people just be going about their business, enjoying a normal day?

On Wednesday we expected a cleaning crew, a new hot water heater, and follow-up from our insurance company. None of those materialized. So another day went by with no progress, and no hot water. Well, that's not accurate. Something was making quite a lot of progress: the mould growing in the soggy basement.

On Thursday morning I was beginning to lose patience. As usual, our landlord was trying to do things on the cheap - fine for him, he had hot water - and I had to get ready for work by heating water on the stove and washing up in the kitchen sink.

When I got home from work on Thursday, the house stank of mould. The mould had obviously worked its way into the ventilation system and was polluting the entire house. I'm allergic to mould, and five minutes in the house left me coughing and gave me a pounding headache. (It wasn't a stress headache: sitting outside in fresh air cleared it right up.)

At the same time, I was getting an enormous runaround from our insurance company, being passed from one person to another to another, and back to the beginning again. Our claim had fallen into some kind of black hole.

I informed Cheapo Landlord that he should ask his insurance company about putting us in a hotel until the hot water was restored and the basement was clean. When he couldn't reach his insurance company and he managed to restore hot water himself, he thought he could talk me into staying: "Just open the windows."

I found a pet-friendly Holiday Inn in Mississauga, we packed a few things, threw the dogs in the car, and hit the road. We were a little beyond open windows at that point.

So last night we had lovely hot showers and clean air and a bottle of wine in our room at the Holiday Inn. This morning Allan dropped me at work, and when he picked me up, the flood restoration people were at work in the basement. I was able to sit on our patio but unable to stay inside for more than a few moments: instant headache. We're at the hotel again tonight, but I'm hoping tomorrow night we'll be home.
"Yay, we're in the car!"

It turns out our own renters insurance covers "additional living expenses" associated with whatever event caused the claim. That could include child care, kennelling an animal, restaurants, and of course, hotels. I'm a little disappointed that we can't give the bill to our landlord! But it's great to know our insurance will pick this up.

The upshot

We're moving.

This is our second flood. After the first one, we endured a long, drawn-out renovation, but that wasn't motivation enough to leave. But this time is so much worse. How could we ever be comfortable here again? Every time it rains, we'll be nervous. The whole point of renting is not to be tied down to property. So I'm looking at rentals online, and we've already seen two places.

It's sad, because we love our little house and our huge backyard, and we are very unlikely to see the likes of them again. Yards are way smaller and houses way bigger, generally. But I remind myself that when we had to leave our little house in Port Credit (because the landlord wanted it back), I was so upset... and it turned out to be a wonderful move, with many benefits. Perhaps the next place will have much to recommend it.

It's also a very bad time for a move, with Allan facing a September 1 deadline for his manuscript. Right before we moved to Canada, I was offered an exciting and lucrative writing project. (Some of you may remember "Ancient Civs".) I remember Allan saying, "You have to take this. How can you not? I'll do all the packing." And he did. He got quotes from movers, organized the move, and packed every single thing we owned, while I wrote full-time and worked my day job on weekends. Now I will do the same. I can't physically pack us, but I will hire people to do so, and organize everything, and Allan will not work on our move, and he will meet his deadline.

The oasis

Through all this, I've had an unexpectedly wonderful oasis from stress: work. Go figure! On Thursday morning, still without hot water, I left the house feeling grumpy and irritable. I joined one of my Children's Library teammates for a presentation at "Literacy Camp" (a/k/a summer school). We had two groups of kids, one younger, one older; all have been identified as struggling readers.

For the younger kids, we started with a song, read a story, did a talk about the library, read another story, plugged Summer Reading Club, and ended with another song. For the older kids, we substituted "book talks" for the stories, reading a chapter from a funny book plus a scary story, did our library talk, and our summer reading club talk. Both groups were fully engaged and seemed to love it.

I left feeling great: happy, energized, laughing, with a great feeling of satisfaction. My irritable mood had vanished.

All week, my shifts at the reference desk and even in my office preparing for upcoming programming have been a wonderful respite from the stress of the upheaval at home.

Bonus list

If you're keeping score at home, for the younger kids, I read Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a huge hit with the kids yelling "NO!" over and over. (Got to looove the Pigeon!) My teammate read Robert Munsch's Down the Drain, a more complicated but also very goofy story, with the kids making sound effects and hand motions.
For the older kids, I read a portion of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger, and my teammate read one of Alvin Schwartz's scary stories. I also did a riff on the Guinness Book of World Records, and a plug for nonfiction along the lines of "we've got books on whatever you're interested in".

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