On Feb 22, 2013, my house exploded at mine and one of my daughter's backs as we ran from it. I never saw flames, just smoke -- it was a total loss. After more than 6 frustrating months of trying to get a start date, we were supposed to start our rebuild, with the footing pour, yesterday, Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013. That did not go as planned as you'll read, shortly.
This blog is a photo and essay diary of sorts, to chronicle our journey home, from September 3rd until... well, until life is back to whatever our new normal is. I may include some flashbacks from our journey to this starting point.
For point of reference, this was my happy place, this is what I miss, this was my home before the fire:
And this is what a broken heart looks like:
It may help to know some of the cast of characters you might meet in this blog. To protect their privacy, I have grown accustomed to referring to the people in my life in generic terms, when speaking of them online:
Oldest = my oldest daughter. Grown and no longer lived with us at the time of the fire, but who still had many of her personal possessions at my home. She graduated with a sociology degree in May 2013, she is one of the best car salesmen in our part of the state and she's training to eventually become the general manager of the dealership. She and her boyfriend live about an hour away and she commutes, so I'm very fortunate that I still get to see her quite a bit, despite her long hours and my upturned life.
Middle Daughter = my middle daughter. Grown, engaged to be married and was living at home at the time of the fire, splitting her time between our house and her fiance's house. She graduated with a double accounting/finance degree in May 2013, works as an underwriter for one of the top auto/fire insurance companies in the country and is about to begin the 2 year process to get her CPCU certification. She has opted to stay with her fiance full time until we're back in our house, rather than live in the rental with us.
And here's our first flashback (to the morning of the fire:) I was home alone, the morning of the fire and I was not expecting my middle daughter home until late in the afternoon. She started feeling unwell, came home early, forgot her key and rang my doorbell. When she rang the bell, I had just noticed that something smelled a little off and I was inspecting my dishwasher thinking something must have fallen on the coils and when I opened the dishwasher, the smoke alarms started going off. From the moment I smelled that faint hint of ozone until the explosion at our backs was less than 10 minutes. In that time, I called 911, she found the upstairs full of smoke, we rescued both pets, moved our vehicles across the street and re-entered so I could shut off the electric main, thinking something was hot & smoking and maybe I could prevent an actual fire, I discovered that the basement was full of smoke too and we started to run for the door. Unbeknownst to me, the basement and second story were already filled with smoke before I noticed anything off. On the main floor, where I was working, there was no hint of a fire and in the last moments before the explosion, there was only the slightest hint of an ozone smell - so faint, I wasn't even sure whether I might be imagining it. But, since I had just started the dishwasher a few minutes prior, I assumed something had fallen on the coils. And I thought my opening the dishwasher had set off the alarms. It was when I walked away to answer the door that I realized I could still smell the ozone as I moved away from the dishwasher. A few moments later, when I was about to go to the basement to shut off the main as we awaited the fire department, I realized the basement was full of smoke and that the fire was down there -- my daughter was a few feet behind me, between the basement staircase and the front door. My mind was still processing that something was actually seriously wrong with my house --hers immediately leapt to how many gas lines were directly below my feet -- four. She very sharply and loudly yelled "It's in the basement? Run Mom! Run Now!" She held the door as I ran out. Only one of my feet had hit the porch when it exploded behind us. It threw my daughter from the porch and slammed the front door shut behind us, which protected us from the fireball that chased the explosion. I saw the incineration of that fireball, later. We would not have survived. I was at a break-neck run and didn't stop til I fell forward into the street. Between us, the only injuries were sore ears for a couple of weeks afterward and a little bit of road rash on the palms of my hands. She saved my life. And the lives of our pets. She is a true hero.
Son = my son. Grown, had returned home a few months before our fire, after completing his schooling and was living with us at the time of fire. He graduated with master/master certifications in both auto mechanics and diesel mechanics and works full time (plus) as a farm implement and heavy equipment mechanic He is living with us in the rental as we make our journey home.
Youngest = my youngest daughter. She is currently in high school, obviously lived with us at the time of the fire and still does. She plays guitar, is a very talented artist, is enrolled in driver's ed and is very active in the local haunted house and her school's theater.
Hubby (aka Hubs) = my husband. He is in systems with the same big insurance company my middle daughter works for. (Not the same company we are insured with - the company they work for had cancelled us a few years ago due to a car accident one of my kids was in. This turned out to be very fortunate for us.)
Turtle (aka Scott, aka Nortle, aka Nortus) = our pet turtle - my middle daughter went upstairs, risking smoke inhalation to rescue her. She would have drowned and boiled in her tank, if not for my daughter. (Despite Scott's boyish name, she is a girl turtle or girtle, if you will.)
Piggie (aka Cocoa, aka Cocoa Bean, aka Puppy etc.) = our pet guinea pig. My middle daughter scooped her out of her cage as I fetched one of her travel cases, that just happened to be assembled and outfitted with a water bowl, puppy pads and food dish from a vet trip -- normally they were kept disassembled and not outfited, so we lucked out having one that was, that day) and I carried her out just in time. She was still a baby at the time of the fire. (If I mention Sugar, she was our beloved piggie for 6 years. She passed away in early November from gastric issues. We had gotten Cocoa the day after Thanksgiving.)
My Folks = my parents. That building and remodeling I used to do for a living? I did that with them. They actually started doing it when I was about 5 years old. And I begged to help so much that they finally gave in and let me. We partnered when I was 19. Mom's very ill - recovering from her second cancer in just a couple of years. Dad's taking care of her full time. I wish like anything that I was rebuilding my house with them instead of having to hire it out. I loved working with them and I miss it very much. I am very lucky to have them and if Mom's recovery doesn't go well and I lose her, I don't think I can make it through this. I am very worried about her. And worried if Dad is overdoing and neglecting his own health in his role of caretaker. I don't get to see them a lot - I will probably whine about missing them now and again.
My In-laws = My husband's parents. Best in-laws ever. I love them very much. They have helped us out so much since the fire, in so many ways. (And they live 8 hours away!) I don't know what we would have done without them. I am so lucky to have them. And I will probably whine about missing them, too.
My Sister, Niece's family & Bro-in-law = My sister, her hubby, their daughter, son-in-law & grand daughter. My bro-in-law will be doing our electric and got our temporary service up and running for us, already. My sister gets to listen to me cry on the phone a lot.
The Other Fire Family = A couple whose home burned almost 2 weeks to the day after ours. They have opted to use the same builder we hired, to our mutual benefit as our builder is not local and having two jobs piggybacked on this commute for his crews is keeping the cost down for both of us. They have a child in high school who was obviously still living with them at the time of their fire and they have two grown children who were either living at home or still had most of their possessions at home (as grown children so often do when they are just starting out on their own.) We are working together - sharing good prices we find and things we learn. And sometimes texting furiously back and forth when we need to vent to someone who understands exactly what has us in a knot. Keep a good thought for something, anything, that belonged to their youngest son to turn up in the few items they recovered after their fire. He has nothing - and everyone who's been through this needs something of their own to touch. Even if it's ruined and wasn't something that seemed important before the fire. It soothes the soul in a way nothing else can. (Note: In the few weeks after our fire, not only did their house burn, just 10 blocks or so from my house, a restaurant burned less than two blocks from my house and another home burned less than a block from mine as the crow flies. AND the number of fire calls per month in our town, each and every month of this year so far, has been near or even above the total number of fire calls for all of last year. Something seems very wrong about that to me. It worries me greatly.)
My Dentist and The Dentist's Wife = (well, obviously, my dentist and his wife.) They went through a total loss of their home to fire about 3 years ago and are STILL on their journey home. My tale of narrow escape is not nearly as harrowing as theirs... my fire was electric we were unable to determine the cause of the explosion. Theirs was a gas leak and my dentist was still inside making his way toward the exit when it exploded. He had to crawl through the flames to exit and it is a miracle he is still with us. Their loss was even more complete than mine, as well. They have been very supportive and helpful to us and to the other fire family, with things they've learned along the way. In fact, the dentist's wife recommended both our builder (not the builder she used or their journey home might have been completed sooner) and our bank to us. They're some of the best people you'll ever meet -- good at what they do, good to other people... I wish I could help them complete their home and get back on their feet, financially. (If you think a fire is some sort of financial blessing, you're either grossly misinformed or a complete idiot. It's not a windfall. You're lucky if it doesn't ruin you, financially. Seriously.)
My Landlord = the sweet lady who owns the house I'm living in. She's also my neighbor while we are here. I retired from landlording about 15 years ago and had only ever rented one time before in my life when I lived out of state temporarily. I have gone out of my way never to be a tenant, but here I am. The Universe has veto power over any plans we make or courses we plot for ourselves. And it doesn't work to spec. She has been incredibly kind and helpful. If I have to be a tenant for awhile, the Universe made sure to bring me to the right landlord. That's for sure.
My Builder = the contractor we hired to build our house. Since I used to make my living building and remodeling homes to sell and I've always been a "carry both ends of the board" type of gal and because home was and hopefully will again be my "happy place" it's very hard for me to trust someone else to handle this for me. I think I found the right guy. The more we talk with him, the more sure of that I am.
The Bouncer = I didn't have a generic name for him, so I had to pick one as I was typing this. He's young and very, very buff, so bouncer it is. He is very sweet, cordial and knowledgeable. He is my builder's site coordinator. I like him, too. As we move through this process, we may be working more closely with him than with our builder, at various points, so it was important to me that I have the same good feeling of trust with him that I have with our builder. And I do.
The Hillbilly = the "excavator" I hired two months ago so the site would be ready for footings the instant we had all three of our green lights (insurance OK, zoning permit, construction loan) and we could hit the ground running. His bid was cheaper than anyone else's. We've now paid him more than double his bid, we'll have to pay out of pocket to fix thousands of dollars of damage he did because he does not actually know how to do a home excavation. He's been on a job that should have taken one to three days (max) for two months and he's still not done. We feel tricked into hiring him. He is not an excavator. He's a guy who owns a hi-ho and thought that's all there was to the job. His not being a real excavator as he presented himself to us to be is why our start date came and went, yesterday, without footings. Every day he puts us behind is costing our insurance company in extended living costs, is keeping us out of our home one more day and is costing a list of contractors who were queued up to come in one after another for my build who've now been put on hold - which will likely be added to OUR bill and have to come out of OUR rapidly emptying pockets. This isn't my first rodeo with home construction - I honestly cannot figure out how it has taken him so long to do what little excavation there was -- much of the hole was already there -- we had a basement. I've never had any excavator take more than one day, for any job -- my "3 (max)" allowance is an allowance for his being new. We could have excavated this site ourselves, by hand, in the two months he's taken so far. And his "cheaper" bid has now cost us many times more than it would have cost to hire anyone else. I wish him well in his other endeavors, but I wish I had never met him.
Our Agent: Our insurance agent. We couldn't ask for a better one. Truly. He was on scene with us. He got the ball rolling with the claim so that everyone we didn't know how to contact reached out to us. I was terrified we'd have to sleep in my van, that night, in the middle of winter -- he had a small amount of money and two hotel rooms waiting for us hours and hours before we were cleared by the fire department to leave the scene. He calls to check up with us. And when it looked like they weren't going to cover removal and replacement of our crumbling basement, he went out to the site and took pictures proving we shouldn't try to build on it and then went to bat for us and got it covered as part of our claim.
Our Adjuster: Our insurance adjuster. We'll see if I'm still saying this when we reach the end of our journey, but so far, he's been awesome, too. We've been told several times that his job is to be our enemy and that we should hire an attorney to fight him. This is from other fire victims who were insured with other companies. Our experience, thus far, has been very pleasant. He's done what he can to try to make this process less confusing and easier for us than what we were told to expect. In fact, everyone having anything to do with the insurance side of this, including the subrogation team and the third party company they use to handle the extended living portion of our claim has been so kind, understanding, patient and helpful. I'm a pretty sharp cookie and quick study with most things -- however, there are two areas where my IQ is below functional... virtual box folding (2d outline of a weird shape - if you fold it, which of these boxes will it make? Never could do those) and anything at all to do with insurance. Anything I try to learn about it falls into a black hole in my brain. (Always has.) So, I've really tested their patience asking the same questions over and over and over again. They should probably get a medal for dealing with me. Seriously.
The Neighbors: The empty nest couple who live next door to our real house on the north side. She is self employed. Her husband is an insurance agent (neither with the company we're insured with nor the company Hubs & my middle daughter work for.)
The Other Neighbors: The family with young kids who live next door to us on the south side. We don't really know them that well. Our youngest used to play with their kids when they were all younger. Her youngest is about the cutest kid you'll ever see. Also, they are cousins of the other fire family. I believe she works for the same insurance company hubs and my middle daughter work for.
The Lady Across the Circle: The lady who lives across the culdesac from us, on the other side of the family next door. We don't know her husband very well. I think he farms - he's always so busy. That's why we haven't gotten a chance to know him. She's a sweetie and tries to keep an eye on the place for us -- her house is at a weird angle to our weird angle, so seeing one another's places isn't exactly easy. But, we try to watch out for each other, anyway. I think theirs was the first house built in our neighborhood and that they are the original owners of it. Good people. Their daughter was the fire lady's best friend, growing up. Oh and her son-in-law works for yet another insurance company. (It's an insurance-industry heavy neighborhood.)
The Previous Owners: They owned our home first and raised their family in it, just as I raised mine in it. I thought of them and that their memories were going up in smoke, too, as I waited for the fire department to arrive. Word reached them and she came to the fire a few hours into it and we cried together in the street as we watched the firemen try to save it. When they were living there, they lost so much more than I have lost - they lost a daughter. As hard as it is for me to lose my home and all the baby pictures and other irreplaceable things that will have no value on my content list but infinite value in my heart -- all the heartbeats in my life are still beating and that makes me one lucky gal. If I run into them when I'm out in town, I will probably feel a need to mention them. My heart hurts for them losing the house as much as it does for us losing it. Maybe more since I'll get to infuse the new one with memories... and they won't.
My Online Friends: My life-line and sanity-tether and bleeding-ulcer-prevention through this. Some have been dear friends I met through a mutual interest in the Monkees and I've known some of these friends for nearly 20 years. Others are newer friends I met through my foray into POD design/marketing or social networking. A few are people I've met along the way through other interests or endeavors. The narrow escape from my fire messed with my head in a major way, in the moments, hours and days following my fire. I became very keenly aware that if I had been on the wrong side of that door when it slammed shut, I might not have been missed by the friends I hold so dear in my heart because I'm really just a name on the screen to them... noticeable when its there, but out of sight, out of mind. I was on the precipice of spirally into a very deep and dark depression. They let me know, in a big and very needed way, that I was wrong. Just as they are more than that to me, I am more than that to them. They would have noticed the absence of my name on their screens and tried to find out why I was missing. My life was saved twice -- once by my daughter just before my house exploded and again by my friends as I struggled to come to terms with my close call. I may refer to them as my Monkees friends or my Facebook friends or my T-shirt pals or online friends or various other designations... there's not only some overlap in those groups... the key word - and only word of importance - is always "friends." I love them with all my heart.
And finally, there's Me, Me, Wonderful Me! (aka Mel.) This blog will probably be as much about me and my internal journey as anything else since it's from my perspective and I'm an emotionally exhausted wreck from this experience. Sometimes, this will be unintentional. Other times, I may need to vent or I may need to write out some of my inner turmoil as a catharsis or (hopefully) I will be so filled with joy that I need to share it that I might fill the world with it. I apologize for the narcissistic slant, in advance. Believe me, I find myself even more terminally dull than you do. (Boring might be my super power.)
In addition to trying to get the house rebuilt, I have to work on our content list -- everything from bobby pins to major appliances. I may ask for help with sourcing some things along the way, or even have other questions, if this blog appears to be attracting a readership.
I probably won't make entries every day. And as new cast members appear, I'll try to remember to update the opening credits, above.
Oh and I sell shirts, stickers, mugs, etc. through Zazzle and similar sites, so now and again, I may illustrate the blog with something from one of my shops or I might share something new from one of them. When you find yourself suddenly owning nothing, it means being nickel and dimed to death every to time you need to do anything -- so many little whatsits you use every day that you just take for granted you have always had and will always have... from rubber bands to tweezers to spoons to basic cookware to you name it. If you want to do anything, you have to go out and purchase everything required to do it. Six months into this, that is still the case on an almost daily basis. And living in a small town where not all of these little things are necessarily carried and with gasoline so expensive... it's unbelievable how fast it drains every resource you have. I am so grateful to the outpouring of gift cards, clothing, hygeine and household items from people in the community and from online friends, immediately after our fire -- we are only afloat at all right now because of that generosity taking some of the burden off. Seriously. Anyway, I'm not trying to sell to YOU, if I do post any of my wares -- I'm either just thinking something makes a good illustration for a point or I feel like talking about something I'm doing that isn't connected to fire or I'm trying to squeeze a little google juice to help boost sales indirectly.
Let's begin the diary, shall we?
Day One: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. My footings were supposed to go in, but thanks to the Hillbilly not being able to figure out how to dig a hole, they couldn't.
Day Two: Today, Wednesday, Sept 4, 2013. We're waiting to find out when we can get another company in to finish the excavation correctly. A long line of contractors are on hold until that's done. I started this blog. And I have a lot of work to do on my content list, so I should probably post this, post some invitations to bookmark it and get busy on that. (The content list, btw, is the cruelest step in this, by far -- it rips the wound open and rubs salt in it every time you work on it. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.)
Here's hoping we have footings sometime in the next few days!!! So far, everything about this has involved loss and removing things. I'm ready for something new to be gained and I feel like I've been standing behind the starting gate forever - it's time for us to take the first step on our journey home.
I may post some photos from the last 6 months or so, before the footings are poured, if I get a chance and feel like I can bear to look at them.