Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Over

I read these words in my email last week:

“…we have settled this claim in full with _________.” The rest went on to discuss attorney’s fees and public adjuster’s fees and other legalities.

So, we've settled our claim against our insurance company.

We were told that the insurance company felt they had given us quite a gift with the payout of our total claim. Forgive me if I didn't squeal with delight when I untangled the bow.

If you've recently happened upon this little blog and haven’t followed the story from the beginning, it goes something like this:

Our home caught fire September 21, 2011. Our home was a total loss, but since it didn't burn to the ground, the insurance company didn't deem it a total loss on day one. No, instead we got to bicker about every window frame, every smoky tuft of insulation, and the smell and condition of every piece of sheetrock. We quibbled over fireplace structure and delaminating roof decking and hopelessly debris-clogged plumbing. We argued extensively over thousands of photos and thousands of line items on spreadsheets. We drifted into the twilight zone as we debated with insurance company representatives months and years after the incident whether or not a pumper truck of water had made its way to our basement damaging items there.

It’s been a long and exhausting battle; a very tedious battle. In the end, we settled up for about $120k less than we had hoped. Let me be clear about what we were hoping for- we were hoping that after paying the attorney’s fees and public adjuster’s fees to fight for what was rightfully owed to us, and paying off contractors that we still owe, that we would walk away with enough money to complete the construction on the house. It isn't what we hoped and it took three years and eight months to accomplish. They feel as if they've given us a great gift. I feel like we've walked away from a no holds-barred fight, beaten and exhausted.

One thing is certain though. It is OVER. For three years and eight months, we've asked ourselves almost daily “where are we with the insurance company?” Every day we have taken stock of what the next step is. Who do we need to call, what documentation are they waiting on, what bid is not in yet, have we heard back from the attorney, etc.  We have stored boxes and boxes of receipts. We've kept a storage shed of items that were too damaged or smoky to bring back into the house as evidence that the insurance company could peruse at their leisure. We have extensive files in shared folders in Google Drive. We've lived in limbo, always waiting for the next request or the next email.  

Finally, it is over. We can empty that storage shed and save ourselves the monthly fee. We can throw out the receipts. We can clear the files. We eliminate the daily work and worry from our lives of battling this claim. We have gained some serious closure. We can close this chapter of our lives and dedicate all of that energy to happier pursuits with our kids.  


We’re happily closing this chapter of the fire story. It is what it is and it is over. (And that is actually a gift.) 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Oink

Overheard from one of the herd:

"One of the families over in the duplexes owns a pig!
They brought it to the bus stop.
It was so cool!
Check it out.
I smell like pig!"


Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Rustic Family Office Makeover

Spring has been full of fun projects here! I really just want to share a ton of photos here so I'll make a long story really short. Stop laughing! I can do it. Maybe.

There is a room off of the family room in our home that for reasons I cannot quite explain has always been referred to as the back porch. I don't know why. It's not a porch. At any rate, what it was supposed to be when we rebuilt after the fire was an office. It was not that either. It was sort of a junk/utility/storage room that just happened to also harbor the printer and some electronic equipment. It was a mess. At one point we hung a curtain across the room to serve as a photo backdrop for a party and then we just left it up to hide the ugly mess.  

Our original plan was for the office to have cabinets and counters that matched the kitchen, but (and here's where the long story has to be shortened) the contractor acted all sorts of ugly and we refused to make the final payment before installation was finished and our cabinets were never delivered. On to plan B. (Plan B took 2 1/2 years.)

We knew what we wanted the space to be. We had dreams. What we lacked was money and time. We agreed to carve both out of this spring. We planned to build a family-centered workspace that would function as an office, serve as a homework space, be a central charging station, and work as a utility room. It also had to coordinate with our very rustic style because this space is clearly visible from the family room.

The Big Guy drew up some plans, I gave him a tour of Pinterest, and we set out for the hardware stores for supplies to build our new office shelves. We visited a lot of hardware stores. We bought a lot of pipe.


The pipe was de-stickered, cleaned, and then coated with spray paint to give it a nice clean finish. We chose Krylon Brushed Metallic Oil Rubbed Bronze to paint with. 

Apologies for the wonky photos. We took them over the course of several days and didn't think about coordinating landscape or portrait. (Though it is painfully obvious now that we should have. Hindsight is everything, yo?)

The round wooden discs will keep the metal from damaging our floor tiles in case we ever want to remove our new office shelving. (I cannot imagine why we would do that.)


The Big Guy was in charge of all spray painting because I cannot be trusted with a can of spray paint. I was in charge of working oil into all of the wood.   


This was not a good plan. For the wood, we chose to use a Danish oil which is a tung oil that is made from a tree seed. I am apparently allergic to this particular tree seed. I oiled all of the shelf pieces one Saturday afternoon and by Saturday night I was sure an elephant had stepped on my lungs. One of my kiddos had the flu so I brushed it off as viral. By Sunday I was feeling fine. Tuesday I decided to oil the two butcher block counter tops and by Wednesday I was sure I was dying. My lungs felt crushed again and oxygen mocked me. I had an itchy rash up my neck, along my jaw line, and inside both elbows. I sounded like Stevie Nicks for a solid week. Thankfully, now that the oil has dried I am doing fine, but there will be no more inhaling fresh tung oil for me.  


The tung oil did do a beautiful job of bringing out the grain and character of the wood which is exactly what we wanted. 


Day by day, the pieces were assembled and the office began to take shape. 


As is the case with any great home remodeling project, our house became a disaster zone. Everything from the office/utility/junk room ended up in the living room and family room and there were tools, pieces of wood, and pipe fittings everywhere. 


As the first pieces began to go together, I fell in love. This is exactly the workspace we needed. 


There is a place for everything. There is a place for the kids to charge laptops and do homework. There is a place for the Big Guy to pay bills and work on the never-ending insurance paperwork. Our cookbooks and recipe boxes have a dedicated space. We have shelves for books. 


We have shelves to house the printer, the wireless routers, and all of the miscellaneous electronic paraphernalia that powers our world. Since we knew this was our ultimate dream for this space, the Big Guy wired in electrical outlets above the desk top during the rebuild so electronics could be plugged in right at desk level. Well played, Big Guy. Well played.  


And, we have dedicated space for the dog food and recycling! I love these bins from IKEA for the dog and puppy food. The black milk crates on the shelf above hold our glass milk bottles until they find their way back to the store. We typically collect them a month at a time hoping they'll grow legs and walk themselves back to the store but it hasn't happened yet. We are now limited to how many will fit on the shelf so we're forced to form better habits.  


The new office is rustic. It's functional. I'd say it's pretty much perfection. It's most definitely us.  

  


  
  




  


   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gutters!

An update on Operation Rebuild is long overdue. Yes, we are still putting the house back together. Sometimes it feels as if we'll always be putting the house back together. We're getting down to smaller  projects though! The larger projects we've had left were the deck, the office, gutters, and exterior paint. We're still battling the insurance company and no additional funds have come through since we moved back into the house so we're chipping away at our big project list as money allows. (Money allows for very slow progress.)

This week, we had gutters installed! Note the word choice in that sentence. We had gutters installed. That's right. We actually paid someone to do the work. We didn't take this task on ourselves. Whew! That's a good thing, because some of those gutters are three stories high.

Oh, beautiful downspout, how I love thee!
No worries, though. We're taking on plenty of work ourselves. The family office space is undergoing an extreme renovation. It hasn't actually been an office space since we moved back home. It was a space to hold the Wii, the cable box, the pencil sharpener, and the printer. It was a space full of storage totes containing insurance paperwork and receipts. It was a space where all things office/utility room related were crammed. But, an office it was not. Soon, very soon, it will be a very nice, fully-functional family office and work space.    



This week though, I'm embracing the rain. Because I can finally walk out my front door when it is raining without racing through a waterfall. Honestly...I cannot remember how many times over the past few years that I have stood on one side of the door or the other, watching the water cascade over the porch overhang, trying to work up the nerve to run through. I can sleep peacefully at night as the raindrops clink against those sweet metal gutters knowing that the water is being effectively routed away from my home and not seeping into places it shouldn't be. 

Who knew I would ever be so excited about gutters? Fire changes your perspective in ways you can never imagine. 




Friday, March 13, 2015

About Hanging On and Letting Go

I am going to tell you a little story. Once upon a time, when I was fourteen and thought I was fat and clumsy (youth is totally wasted on the young), I found myself participating in an experiential leadership group. We called the group simply, Ropes. In  Ropes, a group of ragtag teenagers, all learning to cope with depression, eating disorders, self-harm, drug addiction, and the like (depression- waves hand) were learning to work with others and building our self-esteem by working through a series of physical obstacles and games.

I was bad at all of them.  Seriously. ALL. Of. Them. If we had to climb a rope, I fell before I reached the top. Walk up a 45-degree phone pole? I slid off. Get the group over an 8-foot wall? They just gave up and threw me over. I was always the obstacle. Well…me and one other awkward, very big boy. As the group worked through the planning phase of each challenge, they made plans for how to handle me and the big boy. I wasn’t bad on purpose- I just didn’t have the upper arm strength or dexterity to keep up with my mostly male, athletic group-mates. I always gave my best effort, but I always felt I was letting the group down and I was sure they were all angry at me. I could feel their frustration every time I screwed up a challenge and I know the big boy felt it too. 

One fine afternoon, we faced a seemingly simple (fun, even) challenge. Five tires hung from rope from an overhead support, dangling just a few feet above ground. Our challenge was to get the entire group from one platform, across all five tires, to the other platform, without touching the ground. We could only go forward, not backward. And, we had to get the baby across. The baby was a heavy chunk of an old telephone pole. We made a plan. The big boy and I were not responsible for carrying the baby. Our team mates just hoped we could get ourselves across unassisted. The big boy went first and he made it. And then, it was my turn. The whole challenge rested squarely on my limp shoulders. 

I stepped off the platform and grabbed for the rope. The tire swung. I immediately lost my balance. My foot slipped off the top of the tire. I nearly hit the dirt, but I managed to get my leg through the tire. Safe! I had one leg in the tire, one leg on top of the tire, and my head was swinging precariously just inches above ground. I didn’t have the strength to pull myself up, so I opted to just move horizontally to the next tire. I began to swing, working up momentum, until I could grab the next tire. I was able to grab the rope, but I was unable to pull myself up with one hand. I hung on, still swinging, and got one leg worked into tire number two. So there I was, one leg through each tire, one hand on each rope, butt swinging low, threatening to touch the ground and end the game.

Now, I’m not a quitter. This situation seemed impossible and it was certainly awkward, but I wasn’t giving up. No-ho-hooo. I was not about to quit while I was ahead and walk away with my dignity. Uh-uh. That’s what reasonable people might do. No, Siree. I am a determined soul.

I kept swinging, jerking my weight from side to side until I worked up enough momentum to pull my leg from the first tire and swing wildly toward tire number three. Everyone gasped and screeched as I flailed one leg and one arm inches above the dirt and landed myself in the same position between tires two and three. Swinging, sweating, and grunting in pain, I managed to repeat the same steps to get myself hung spread-eagle between tires three and four.

I was losing steam. I was sure my arms were stretching and my shoulders threatened to dislodge from their joints. I looked up at the platform ahead and a harsh reality washed over me. I realized that even if I could swing this one more time and get myself into tire number five, there was no way I was going to be able to get onto that platform at the end. I hadn’t been able to pull myself up yet and I just kept swinging side to side, making no upward progress. No matter how much effort I gave, I simply could not achieve the goal.  

It was time to let go. I had given this challenge everything I had and it was just more than I could handle. As I hung there from those two tires, butt hung low, head hung back, hair dragging in the dirt, I prepared for the fall. I knew I would hit the ground with a thud when I let go and I knew it would hurt. But, I also knew that when I let go, the other members of my group would lose the challenge and they would be angry with me. I knew that would hurt much worse, so I prepared myself for the emotional pain as much as I did for the physical fall.

I let go. I hit the ground with a thud. I waited for the worst, but it didn’t come. Every member of the group rushed over to me to ask if I was ok. They cheered and clapped. They said they would have never hung on as long as I did and they couldn’t believe I had pushed myself so hard. I was stunned. Who knew that others could see the strength inside of me, that I couldn’t see myself? I learned in that moment, that I was stronger than I thought I was. I also learned that I had support in places I least expected it. My pride wasn’t hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was fine, empowered even. My group mates didn’t shun me. They supported me. I lived to get back up and face a new challenge the next day.




It was twenty-six years ago that I found myself dangling from those tires, hanging from a rope and losing my grip, but the memory is clear and fresh. It has become a metaphor for my life. Most days, I am swinging from a tire, holding onto a rope. Some days I am on top of the tire, face to the breeze, enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Some days I am stretched between two tires, butt dragging, sweat dripping, in great pain and anguish, losing my grip. Every now and then, I have to just let go and take the fall. But always, I live to see another day and face a new challenge.  


What's the point of this story, you ask? Bear with me. I have a few. First, you need to find your people and build a good support network. You will find yourself swinging from the end of your rope sometimes and occasionally you will lose your grip. Surround yourself with people who know your strengths and who will cheer you on when you’re swinging low and pick you up when you hit the ground with a thud. Yes, you will probably look like a crazy person in an awkward position and you might even bump your butt on the ground a few times, but that’s okay. Your people will love you anyway. 

Second, know when to let go. When you’re in a treacherous situation, you may need to just let go. For the love of dignity, when you find yourself barely hanging on, looking like a fool, just let it go. Some things are worth hanging onto and fighting for. Some are not. Learn how to tell the difference. If it's time to let go, suck it up and let go of that rope. Then dust yourself off and move on to the next challenge. Don't worry. Life is full of them. There will be plenty more.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Puppy Love

The Big Guy and I have been talking about puppies for quite some time now. As in, we should get one. It was time. Mister Jai is aging and the smoke he inhaled during our house fire has taken quite a toll on his body. We are of the belief that the old dog should train up a younger one, and we figured it was time to get on it.

I wanted a Great Pyrenees like Jai. They are noble dogs- independent and confident, That's what I say. If you ask the Big Guy, he'd say they're self-absorbed, stubborn a-holes who are too prissy to get their pretty paws wet.

The Big Guy wanted some sort of Retriever mix, preferably a mix of yellow and golden. He says they are loving, super-intelligent dogs. If you ask me, I'd say they are obnoxious, chewing, playful bundles of energy who never get enough love and attention to keep them from gnawing your door frame to bits.

And then one lovely January day, someone posted an ad for a litter of pups that were part Great Pyrenees and part Golden Retriever and in less than 24 hours...


This little guy came home with us. 

We had no choice. It was fate. And he was irresistible. 


He's already got that Great Pyrenees stance- all noble and independent. 

He has really been wonderful about house training and learning basic commands, but...he came equipped with those blasted sharp little puppy teeth. Destructive forces of evil they are. He annihilated my iPhone charging cord. He chewed the Big Guy's computer cord right in half. And then, he destroyed the cord to the electric blanket. We're thinking of calling him Zap. 

He's got some big paws to fill, but that shouldn't be a problem. His mama was 140 pounds. 


Sadly, that's about as close as he's been able to get to Jai because Jai in all of his independent nobility, cares not what we think about this old-dog-training-the-younger one thing. He is having none of it, and since the puppy's whole face fits into Jai's mouth, Jai wins. The puppy sneaks up on him when he's sleeping and pretends they're friends. 

Some day, puppy. 

But not today. 
   
   
  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Year of Good Things

On New Year's Eve, we once again opened our family's Good Things jar. All year long, the jar sits in our living room with slips of paper and a pen nearby. Every member of the herd is welcome to write a good thing on a piece of paper when a good thing happens, and then drop it into the Good Things jar for safe keeping until the last day of the year. Then, we sit as a family and take turns reading all of the good things that happened during the year.

Occasionally, a not so good thing slips into the jar and someone uses it as a vehicle to torment a sibling.  Sigh. Here and there someone slips something ornery into the jar. But, for the most part, it is a beautiful thing. It is a jar of memories that might otherwise be forgotten; the little day-to-day events that slip by way to fast.



This year was very challenging for our family. A lot of not so good things happened. One child was hospitalized with a virus. Two children had surgery. Our house fire continued to haunt us as the insurance payment remained in arbitration. We started the year with one child still in residential mental health treatment, and we ended the year with that child running away from home. It would be easy to let the challenges define the year, but it wouldn't be right.

This year was full of good things too. We cleared away the remaining construction debris in our yard and got siding installed on the house. We worked together as a family to build a fire pit in the back yard and together we spread three tons of river gravel around it. The oldest child moved into his own apartment and completed his second year of college. This fall, I went back to college and earned an A in all four courses proving to the college and more importantly, to myself, that my lapse in grades was a temporary fall resulting from the house fire. It was a year of recovery and healing.

The Good Things jar reminded us of even more special moments from 2014. There were 8th grade fancy dances, 4th grade school plays, homecoming parades and dances, and first color guard competitions. There were baptisms, tests passed, awards earned, and clay teapots selected for district art competitions. It was a year of smiles and celebrations.

In the midst of the challenges, there were good things. It was a good year.

Welcome, 2015! The Good Things jar is waiting to be filled with your joy.