Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Do We Do It?

I hear, all too frequently, "I don't know how you do it." Well folks, the key to raising 5 kids is being organized.

Please note: We. Are. Not. Organized.

We do keep a schedule though. Scratch that. I keep a schedule. And I make the family live by it. For several years now we have lived, succeeded, and failed, by the schedule. If ever we are where we are supposed to be, it is because it was on the schedule. And probably because a cell phone alarm was set to remind us. And maybe because someone I was nagging everyone. If we forgot a kid and left them standing at the stadium without a ride, it was because someone forgot to look at the schedule.  

Here is how our whole schedule thing works-

  • Everyone in the family has an assigned dry-erase marker color. 
  • The schedule is created on Sunday, when Mom gets around to it. 
  • If you want something on the schedule, it must be given to Mom or Dad in writing by Sunday. (It can be on a post-it note, placed in Mom's planner, or texted. Absolutely NO verbal submissions- because really...we aren't actually paying attention when we're in traffic and they're rambling on about 55 different topics per minute.)
  • Anything added after Sunday is added at your own risk. If you forgot you need a cheesecake for the Great Winter Guard Cheesecake Bake-Off of 2012 and it gets added to the schedule the night before, you will get a verbal smackdown. Just put on your big girl/boy panties and suck it up. (My son will read this and point out to me that boy's don't wear panties. It's my blog, Son. My blog.)
One of the very first items I purchased after the fire for our hotel room was a giant whiteboard. I simply could not fathom how to manage our lives without the visual schedule we were accustomed to. The big, ugly board has been a staple in our lives, does not fit with our new decor. No way am I putting that hideous thing in my brand new old home.

So, I went off to the craft store and made a beeline to the custom framing department. I explained what I wanted: something that matched one of my paint chips, a rustic frame, about yay big. The friendly workers promptly quoted me a price and I nearly peed myself.

I headed right on over to the pre-assembled frames and set about finding an affordable solution.

Here is how I made my prettified version of the family schedule aka 'the board':

I started with a mat board that was an excellent match to one of my wall colors, a nice frame, and a big yardstick thing. That's a technical term right there- yardstick thing.

I took a quick trip to the automotive store to buy this cute tape that I call automotive tape. Because you's tape, for your auto. The Big Guy informed me that this is in fact, PIN STRIPING. I stand corrected. (eyeroll)

Use the giant yardstick thing to make your marks and then apply your auto tape pin striping. Plop the whole thing in a frame and...


I now have a prettified family schedule that is dry-erase-marker-friendly. 

Chaos, as we know it, can now be organized, by color, down to the hour on a board that coordinates with our new decor. 

That's how we do it, folks. 

I also want to say my mind, all of my photographs are beautiful, rich, and vibrant. I really believed that when we moved back into our home and there were actual lights (not work lighting) that I would be able to take fabulous photographs for this blog. Nope. Turns out you actually need some photography skills too. Blast. Photoshop does help, but the Big Guy's computer has never met Photoshop and my computer is still awaiting it's new power jack which is stalled somewhere on the East coast. Double blast.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflections

As we sat around our new table in our newly painted dining room on Thanksgiving, after preparing a meal in our newly remodeled kitchen in our old home...

We began our yearly round of 'What I'm Thankful For.'

You know that old saying 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone'? Too true. But, I'll do you one better: You really know what you've missed when you get it back.

What we were thankful for:

The ability to sit around our table as a family and have a meal in our own home.

Having space to invite friends and family to enjoy a meal with us.

A huge refrigerator and double oven.

A pantry.

(Yes, we seriously appreciate the ability to store and cook food for a family of seven.)

Being home.

All of us, together.


It's hard to really explain what it means to us to have a meal in our new/old home. Just try to imagine our situation. On September 21, 2011, after the firefighters and the Red Cross and neighbors, family, and friends had cleared out we drove to a hotel that would be our home for the next 14 days. Imagine for a minute what it was like to live in 3 separate hotel rooms with our 5 children. This was not a vacation. We did not arrive with luggage.

The kids had never stayed in a hotel so it was really a novel thing in the beginning. "They have FREE breakfast mom!" Thank heavens. Because we had no idea how far our money would last in this situation and no idea how soon the insurance company would pay. By day 14 we were mostly having hot chocolate for breakfast because those continental waffles were no longer appealing. Wonderful people lifted us up and kept us coasting on a constant supply of gift cards, cash, and donations and we were able to take most of our evening meals in a sit-down restaurant.

We began to consider dinner a sacred event. We banned visitors during the dinner hour and made a commitment to just having dinner alone with our children somewhere with a table so we could all sit together. Our days were filled with contractors, insurance agents, good people checking on us and helping us with various tasks, vet visits for the rescued pets...complete chaos. Our kids were grieving and they needed us but we were so busy trying to rebuild our lives that they felt left out. Dinner was our time to be a normal family, if only for an hour.

We kept some snacks and cereal bars in a small plastic tub in the hotel room and made our kids order milk and juice at dinner but really, nutrition was seriously lacking and we were all getting sick of eating out. We were thrilled when we moved into our first rental house. We had an actual refrigerator! And a stove! We could cook!

The excitement wore off fast as we realized we didn't own anything to prepare a meal with. The insurance company supplied a few primitive kitchen staples which might have worked fairly well for a family half our size. It was sort of like camping. We could, theoretically, prepare a meal but it wasn't fun or easy. Gradually, we purchased new pots, pans, and various utensils and meal prep got easier. We enjoyed some food in our home and even invited extended family over to enjoy some meals with us from time to time. It didn't last.

We moved to a new rental house in March and we were suddenly what you might call downsized. The new refrigerator felt like an oversized dorm refrigerator and we couldn't purchase enough food to last more than a few days at a time. In the new rental, the dining room table served as an office for me and as a home base for Operation Rebuild. We installed a large whiteboard to track construction progress and hold lists of items that still needed to be purchased. There were carpet and tile samples scattered everywhere. The kitchen nook held a table that did not hold all of us. Most meals involved sitting wherever you could find a spot and balancing your plate.

Our evenings were also packed with visiting the house to approve things, shopping for things we once owned, supervising contractors, and picking out an endless supply of construction materials ranging from paint and carpet to roofing shingles and faucets. We still considered dinner our sacred hour to regroup, but having dinner at home felt like a massive chore. No one had time to shop every few days and since we couldn't eat together eating at home just was not very appealing.

We all tired of restaurants and we seem to know the managers and waiters at every local eatery for 15 miles. We don't even need menus anymore. We had to create new family rules for ordering at restaurants to make sure the kids were getting some kind of nutrition. No soda. No fries. The vegetarian must order a protein. Fruit is your side option. Chocolate chip pancakes are not a meal. Honey mustard is not a side dish.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving.

We are living back in our HOME. There is no construction progress board because what is left to complete is extremely manageable. We have, according to the kids, a giant refrigerator. We have a pantry. We have a deep freeze. We can store an adequate amount of food for a family of 7 and not spend half of our week at the grocery store. Seriously. We can buy 4 bottles of milk and still have room to store a 22-pound turkey. Squee!

We have a sink and a prep sink. That means 1 kid can peel potatoes and 1 kid can rinse dishes without touching each other. (Can you hear the angels singing?) We have an island where several of us can prepare food at once. That means 1 kid can peel potatoes, 1 can make a crust for the dessert, 1 can mix pumpkin pies, I can make deviled eggs, and the Big Guy can put together a vegetable casserole, all while facing each other and talking as loudly as possible about 4 different topics so no one can hear themselves think. Yep. We're HOME.

When we've put together a fabulous home-cooked meal, we can all gather around 1 table and enjoy that meal together while we reflect on what we're thankful for.

I never knew how important it was for us to be able to prepare a meal together and to be able to sit together in a place we call home and eat that meal together. I'm thankful that we've learned that lesson. I'm thankful that we had each other to learn that lesson with. I'm thankful we've come through this ordeal together. I'm thankful it's over.

I'm thankful we're home.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Mini-Tour of a Fire Reconstruction

Ok. Ok. I know. I promised more pics.

See, the problem is...I wanted to share pretty pics. The kind where the house is all set up nice and doesn't look lived in. But, we moved in before the house was even set up and guess what? My house is totally lived in. By 7 people. And 2 dogs who think they're people. And 5 guinea pigs who think they're dogs. And 1 rabbit.

Our house is so seriously lived in it is positively, well...homey. It takes on a personality that is all us. 

See for yourself...

The dino is just making sure everyone in the neighborhood  knows we are back because, you know...the house still looks like a construction zone from the outside. 

Crockpot cake, courtesy of Karen's Kaykes
We had a fun welcome home party at the house last weekend, or as a friend called it "the you can't take me down par tay." Our friend Karen (maker of totally too cute Karen's Kaykes) brought us a cake that looked like a little Crockpot. That was just the thing I needed. It brought a good laugh and I got to destroy the thing with a knife. Talk about healing. 

Here is what our totally lived in house is shaping up to look like: 
Family Room
And look! I even managed to light a candle. That is really quite an accomplishment for me. I had serious fire issues before the house caught fire. I wanted to light a candle by the bathtub a few days ago and I just could not make myself do it. It provoked so much anxiety I started to itch just thinking about it. This candle is inside a glass lantern and therefore less exposed and somehow that got past my panic meter. 

Living Room / Dining Room
This is the room the kids are not really allowed in. It is the one room of the house that can not at any time look lived in. It is the room that all unexpected guests are ushered into so they don't see how lived in the rest of the house really is. The dog is even looking at the un-vacuumed rug with shame. I can't wait for the next furniture delivery and to put curtains up in this room! That chair in the corner is calling my name. Me and my Nook belong right there. 

Tub Room
This is the tub room. Also known as My Sanctuary. I LOVE this room. And...

Master Vanity
I have my very own vanity! That means the Big Guy won't be knocking off my makeup when I'm trying to put my face on. Or dripping water on my makeup brushes. Or leaving his beard trimmings in my makeup brushes or sink. Oh. My. Stars. I am in heaven. 

There ya go. A mini-tour of a 'fire reconstruction'. 

Is it fabulous? 


Do I love it?

Oh yeah!

Was it worth it?

Hells to the no.    

Thursday, November 15, 2012


This is just a short post and I promise to follow up with more very soon. Honest. Pinky swear.

When I was a teenager (dressed head to toe in black with long bangs in my over-eyeshadowed eyes) I was completely obsessed with Motley Crue. I had a Tommy Lee poster on the ceiling over my bed so I could look into his scary black lined eyes as I fell asleep. I owned every cassette tape the Crue had made and even a few bootleg ones. I never missed a concert. I even wore a black denim jacket with the Motley Crue Theatre of Pain faces airbrushed on the back. (Even when it was 80 degrees.)

Thank heavens I wasn't interested in tattoos or I would probably have those Theatre of Pain faces on my butt. Terrifying. Why am I telling you this? Well, if you didn't know me you might not know that my absolute favorite-ist song ever was Home Sweet Home. And without this treasure trove of background information you might not realize how this song has taken on such deep meaning for me now. The lyrics have been playing in my head for weeks. Talk about an earworm.

"My heart's like an open book
For the whole world to read
Sometimes nothing keeps me together at the seams...

I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home sweet home"

Guess what?


Card from our fabulous neighbors!
Yup! Sunday night was our first night back in our home since September 21, 2011. We are back in Walnut Creek with the most fabulous neighbors ever. It feels so good to be home. We are adding final touches and unpacking boxes and still clearing things out of the rental house. The journey is not over. 

But we're HOME!
My house! Told you I have the best neighbors ever. 
In between the unpacking and working and cleaning I have slept. I have slept better than I have in a year. It feels like I'm sleeping away all of the trauma and worry. I love waking up in my own home again. 

I'll get pics up ASAP. Right after I unpack 55 more boxes.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Very Special Kind of Crazy

This whole rebuild-the-house-after-the-stupid-crock-pot-fire thing has been insane, but Thursday was a very special kind of crazy. Everything arrived on Thursday. Okay, maybe not everything. But a whole bunch of stuff arrived on Thursday.

The cabinets arrived. Well...half the cabinets arrived, but that is a whole other blog post. Then the appliances arrived. Then the sofas, chairs, and ottoman arrived. Then the table and beds arrived. Then the mattresses showed up. There was a whole crew in and out hanging cabinets and the flooring guy was trying to put carpet on the steps that the furniture crews were climbing. He should have been finished last week, but again...another blog  post. A guy was in there putting tinted mortar on the fireplace. The house was hopping.

When the chaos finally cleared it looked something like this...
Dining Room
After carrying around paint chips and laminate samples for a year, it was really nice to see it all come together. It was even more wonderful to see that it all looked just as I had imagined it would in my mind. (Except in my mind it was all finished.)
Yes, there is still plastic on the counter top. Yes, that is my dishwasher and microwave in those boxes there. Yeah, yeah, yeah...there is plastic on the window and that is a bare wire you see hanging down. Yes, the faucets are missing. But look how wonderful it all looks!
Into the Family Room
Actually, as I break from packing to type this post, the faucets are in and the refrigerator is being fully installed. The house passed the final codes inspection this morning and we are legal to move in!
Main Bath
We even have working toilets! Those were long over due. The lawn watered. Euww.
Entry into the Family Room
Look at that awesome stair railing the Big Guy created. It will be stained to match the kitchen cabinets. Right after the baseboards are installed and the office windows are trimmed out and the pantry shelves are built and...

Oh my. His honey-do list is quite extensive. 

Fish and Rough Stuff enjoying the new place.
It has been several weeks since Fish has gone into the house. The other kids get excited about the progress but Fish wanted to be surprised. As you can see, she approved. The kids were so excited they didn't want to leave. I was under the same spell. It is really difficult to stop at the house now just to drop something off or meet someone and then have to leave. I just want to sit in the middle of the house and admire it with a big, goofy smile on my face. 

So, the house has come together nicely. We are all packed up and ready to move in. We're just sitting around waiting for the volunteers to come and help us load the moving truck. 

If you believe that, I've got a crock to sell you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


This week, I cracked.

I've earned it. I should have known it was coming. And took me off guard.

Life has been rough. Nothing has gone smoothly since the house caught fire. Everything has taken longer than planned. Every bid submitted to the insurance company has turned into a major negotiation in the Twilight Zone. I've had surgery. My daughter needs surgery. There is just no end to the challenges. Such is life.

Then, this week the power jack on my laptop died. The laptop was plugged in but started running on battery power. I wiggled the cord. I jiggled the plug. I blew into the jack (as if that would do something magical). Nothing. The power was draining. As the battery approached the end of it's life I began to panic. I work from my laptop. I need my laptop.

I warned my boss that I was having a power cord crisis and would soon be logged off against my will and then began to search the internet frantically to learn more about failing power cords and where to purchase a new one. The search was not positive. Finally, the battery tapped out and the screen went black and that is when it happened.

Our lovely sidewalk.
I cracked.

My soul cracked just like our sidewalk did when the fire truck parked on it. The tears welled up in my eyes and then flooded down my cheeks. I curled up in my blanket on my bed and cried and sobbed until I had no energy left. All of the grief and challenges of the last several months came crashing down on me at once. I couldn't, at that moment, grasp any ability to deal with this simple situation. I couldn't get a grip on life. I realized I just might be broken.

No worries. I've been broken before. I knew how to fix myself. The laptop cord I had zero ability to cope with, but myself I could fix.

I cried. I did. I just let it all out. When the tears ended I curled up and went to sleep. I set my alarm for 2 hours and slept away all the mess. Then I got up, showered, put on eye cream (note- eye cream will not fix puffy eyes) and put my face on. I grabbed a Dr. Pepper and some chocolate and I was good to go. It was Halloween and we had Trick-or-Treating to do.

So, while I fixed my cracked self the Big Guy went to the big box computer store and bought me a new laptop cord. That did not fix the issue so he dismembered my laptop which might have sent me over a cliff but then, hey...I've lost all of my belongings in a fire. I can surely survive the loss of a laptop. I ate some Halloween candy because chocolate fixes almost everything. Except laptop power jacks.

I am now working from the Big Guy's laptop when he is not using it and so this post is long overdue.

Without further ado...

I know the pics don't do it justice but I really love it! All of the colors but one are exactly what I envisioned in my mind for the last year.

Kitchen and Pantry
The kitchen color turned out to be...not what I expected. I don't dislike it, but it certainly was not what I saw on the color chip. But, again, I don't dislike it so all is well. 
Boy's Room
Now, that color up there? I distinctly dislike that. Thank heavens that is in the basement. The Boy doesn't really like it either because it is not green enough. Oh my. 
Little Bean's Room
There are 14 paint colors in this house. F O U R T E E N. I don't know how that happened. 

Actually, I do. I like color. I picked 4 colors for the shared living spaces and then everyone got to pick their own bedroom color. Add trim and cabinetry and, well...fourteen different colors. This is why the painter informed us he would not be finished by today, our second chosen move-in date. Sigh. 

Master Bath Vanity
Most of the house looks something like this today. It is covered in paper, painters tape, and overspray. It is also packed with workers. 

People are in there laying flooring.
Upstairs Flooring
(Yes, yes...that is wood flooring on a roll. Isn't vinyl amazing? *eyeroll*)

People are installing outlets.
People are installing outlet covers. 
Final touches.  
It is looking like home in there. 
Master Bath Tub.
As usual, there is also weirdness. Look at that tub up there. 

Look closer. 
Those are sweatpants stuffed in there under the bath tub. 

Don't ask me. I have no freakin' idea. I'm guessing the painter must have gone home pantsless. But, long as he gets the walls painted, I'm' not asking questions. To each their own. 

Perhaps he too, is cracked.