Having a fire will change your life | Steel Cow

Having a fire will change your life

Howdy!

It's been awhile since I last put up a blog post.

I've not been great at consistently posting for several reasons, but last spring we had a fire at Steel Cow. It was a big one, the losses were great, but our building still stands and most of the damage was smoke damage - so as long as items in our building were made of metal or wood they were salvageable. Our printers, inventory, computers, electronics and lots of other things were thrown in one of the 16 dumpsters we used, along with most plastic things, and part of our ceilings and floor on the first floor. We had great insurance and for that I am so grateful. 

I don't know if I will dive into the fire in more detail or not. Josh and the dozens of people who helped get our building and business up and running again were AMAZING and worked their butts off for us to be operating at small strength a month after our fire and and at full strength eight months after it happened. But I just want to kind of acknowledge that it happened and be on my way. At least for now.

So I will acknowledge it here for a moment:

I didn't paint much last year. I was on track to - Penelope was painted and released in January, our first Flower Cows were released in February, in March I started painting Brigid - a super sweet baby goat, we took a fabulous work trip to Texas (ooo - I do need to revisit this trip and the thousands of photos I took while there) and then on April 6, while I was outside planting some elderberry trees in our orchard, I got a call from my aunt who works in/owns a building on the same block as us in downtown Waukon.

"Val, where's Josh?"

"I'm not sure, he's around here somewhere."

"Your building is on fire"

"oh f*ck." "oh sorry." "ok, thanks"

then me SCREAMING to Josh

"JOSH! - our building's on fire. All those sirens - they're for us!"

Josh then drops his tea tumbler on the ground, runs faster than I have ever seen him run, and jumps into his truck as he peels out of our gravel driveway and almost runs over our gate in the process of getting downtown.  

Oof - I am getting kind of anxious and teary eyed as I'm revisiting this even if for a moment. 

I grabbed our three kids (who may or may not have been barefoot), threw them into our suburban, and shaking worse than any bitter cold I have ever experienced in the dead of winter, called my mom for help and barreled myself downtown. We live in a small town in Iowa and live on the edge of town less than one mile away from downtown, where our building is. Our building was built in the 1920's by my grandfather's grandfather. Josh and I purchased the building from my parents and grandparents about 14 years ago, remodeled all four floors ourselves 12 years ago and until about 3 years ago lived on the third floor above my studio and store. 

I parallel parked like a bad ass in record time a block away, grabbed the kids again, then quickly made it to the intersection just south of our building. But I couldn't get any closer due to all the fire trucks and firemen. Josh was with them, but in the middle of all the emergency equipment, policemen, hoses and firemen - being under a very large outwardly stretched-to-our-third-story ladder was no place for a hysterical mom and her three little kids to be. 

So, Eddie, Harry, Ellis, and I (along with my Mom, aunt, a couple of uncles, one of my best and oldest friends and a handful of other people) watched as our building burnt and black smoke rolled out of the windows from the street.

It was terrifying. (Not as terrifying as having someone you love or yourself go through health problems - I can keep things in perspective - but it was terrifying none-the-less.)

I was shaking and crying and really unsettled. All of my paintings were in that building (except for the paintings I painted in the last three years - those were at home and that was a comfort).

But - All of my paintings were in that building.

I didn't much care about anything else. Obviously, I cared about the firemen and my husband and didn't want anyone to get hurt. And I cared for our building itself and the whole block. Sometimes in these small towns if one building burns, it spreads to the next building and then the next and then pretty soon the whole block is gone. 

But my paintings - All of my paintings were in that building.

And I have wanted to be an artist since I was 7 years old. It's the only thing I have ever wanted to be. I have prayed most nights about wanting to be an artist. All the candles I have ever blown out from age 7 on have been about wishing to be an artist. 

I kept pretty much all of my paintings since I was in high school. And they were all in the building that had black smoke rolling out of the windows. And my husband wasn't going inside. That was either a REALLY good sign or a REALLY bad sign and I didn't know. (In a previous part of his life Josh had been a fireman for 7 years so I expected him to ask a fireman for gear and go in. And he wasn't.) Oof. 

Ok - I think I have revisited and acknowledged this in depth for enough today.

Just so I don't leave you hanging - As the minutes (which seemed like hours) went on, the fire was put out by some very talented and generous volunteer firemen just before it flashed and took off.

After an hour or so, I was able to go in and look at everything. At first it didn't seem too bad compared to what it could have been. And it wasn't. Thank God it wasn't.

But there was a ton of work to do. Months and months of work. Actually I am still doing work from the fire - (all the extra paperwork - grrrrrrrrr.......) and I have yet to rework and fix my paintings. But they all survived. They all survived!!

And, I actually had most of them stacked face to face and back to back with each sizes in their own stack, so because of this the smoke mainly settled on the edges and not on the face of the paintings. I think I have about 20% of them that need to be painted and fixed in some way to get the black smoke out. And for some reason, I know I will get to this even though I haven't done it yet. 

Ak! I wasn't planning on writing about our fire. When I started this post, I titled it Artist and Grower. This post is supposed to be about flowers and growing them and why in my next post you will see some new images of my paintings with Dahlias - you know, so it will make sense and you won't be thinking "what's up with the all the flowers on top of the cows?" 

But, as I write this, I realize this post is about a new me. A new identity. I have been identifying with only being an artist for such a long time I didn't realize I needed to tweak it just a bit for my life now. I am no longer an artist with a few kids who are fun but keep me from painting as much as I would without them. I am more.

I am a mom.

I am an artist.

and

I am a flower grower. 

Because on April 15th - a week after our fire and right after I finished painting that sweet goat named Brigid (I finished her in our Airstream camper which we placed in the middle of our wildflower field while my parents watched the kiddos at my parents house) - I made a decision to let Josh and the pros (Service Master by Rice) figure out how best to put our building and business back together and I was going to dive deeply into flowers and growing them until our business was back on course. Of course I would be around if I needed to be, but when I left most everything to Josh, my exploding head and my exploding heart wasn't exploding anymore. And Josh was amazing. 

And I didn't paint as I didn't have the space I wanted to paint in, and instead I planted. And planted. And planted. And weeded. And watered. And fertilized. And got my hands and feet dirty. And got sunburnt. And killed bugs. Thousands and thousands of bugs. With my gloved hands. And they squished. And then I realized I shouldn't be squishing them - I should be drowning them in a bucket of warm soapy water. So I drowned thousands of more bugs. And I didn't feel bad. And I yelled at my kids. And I laughed with my kids. And I played with my kids. And I ignored my kids. And my kids chased away not one but two babysitters. And I cried. And I picked flowers. And I picked flowers. And I picked flowers. And I filled my flower cart. And I filled my flower cart. And I gave flowers away. And I took photos of flowers. Thousands and thousands and thousands of photos of flowers. And some were good. And some were bad. And it was just what I needed. 

Because, now, as I am taking more than a few moments to look back at last year (both for tax prep and just as a general look-back.) I realize after the last two growing seasons of being completely immersed in flowers (because I have been given the gift of time from last year with not having to be anywhere or do anything due to covid and from this past summer of taking time off painting due to the fire), I not only am an artist who has a few kids and grows a few flowers in her free time.

I am a mom and and artist and a flower grower.

And I am happy.

 

And I am ready to share what I have learned and created with whoever will listen or take a look. 

Valerie Miller

 

p.s. I also have cats. My dad hates cats. My husband is allergic to them, when I was little and dreaming of being an artist the one side kick I wanted was not a husband or a child, but was a studio dog. And I had the perfect studio dog in the entire world who crossed the rainbow bridge 4 years ago. When we moved to our house 3 years ago we said we would get cats, but we chickened out because we aren't cat people. But now we have two perfectly adorable cats, Birdie and Sylvia. Because we found them in May as two week old kittens in our garden shed and our hearts couldn't say no. But - I am not a cat person, I just have a few cats....

 p.p.s. and Josh Miller is not the author of this post - I am. For some reason I can't figure out how to make his name go away from right below here and I am not going to take the time to figure it out now.


Josh Miller
Josh Miller

Author



11 Comments

Leslie Johnston
Leslie Johnston

February 01, 2022

Love this beautiful story. Your flowers are gorgeous. Have you thought about painting them? Best wishes.

Debbie
Debbie

February 01, 2022

What a great blog.So sorry about all you guys went thru,glad no one was harmed.love your paintings!

Christine Sander Dunbar
Christine Sander Dunbar

February 01, 2022

Mom, Artist, Flower Grower – and a pretty, darn good writer – as well as a survivor!❤️
Love your priorities Val (and you). You find the time for the important stuff❣️ Cheers!

Shirley
Shirley

January 29, 2022

Proud of you Val, and the whole family, for coming through all those bad times so strongly and capably getting past it all! You are very special people!

Sheila Scheib
Sheila Scheib

January 29, 2022

Love your blog!🥰

Linda DeBuhr
Linda DeBuhr

January 29, 2022

I love this blog post so much!

Sharon and Jerry
Sharon and Jerry

January 29, 2022

We are smiling through our tears, reading your saga in awe of your strength, artistry and wisdom. Your words and images are a testament to your self-awareness and the power of love, the importance of work and the healing salve that comes from growing beautiful flowers and having animals and children. We salute you and Josh and can’t wait to choose some of your paintings of your flowers.

Lynn
Lynn

January 29, 2022

You are amazing Val! Hugs out to you. Can’t wait to see what you give to the world this year!

Suzie
Suzie

January 29, 2022

I never doubted for a minute that you would come back stronger and better than ever! You do beautiful work. It’s been a heck of a year for you all but it’s all coming together beautifully.

Marianna
Marianna

January 29, 2022

Wow-what a year you have had! I’m so sorry you had to go through it, but so happy for you that you turned it around and have created some awesomely beautiful paintings and flowers! Not to mention the personal growing that helped you become more of who you are-Rock On!

Jen Couchman
Jen Couchman

January 29, 2022

Valerie, I can’t imagine how your relived each minute while writing this. I enjoy your paintings and have purchased several. But I’ve also enjoyed your flowers (and kids) via Facebook posts. I’m certain they are more beautiful in person. Thank you for sharing.

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