Saturday, February 3, 2018

Slow Cookers and House Fires and TV Shows and Such

Spoiler Alert: #ThisIsUs spoilers ahead if you're not caught up.

Once upon a time, I started this blog to process my thoughts and feelings about our house fire and to share the rebuilding process with our friends and neighbors. It was a healing space and as time went on it became more about our family life in general and less about the fire. Years went by. I went to college. I was working. I was busy with kids. I meant to blog. I really did. Before I knew it, two years had gone by. It seemed like maybe time had moved on and this space for processing the fire was no longer needed.

Then along came This is Us. I met the Pearson family on the NBC show This Is Us and like so many others I developed a love for all of them as the seasons developed. It’s been obvious from the beginning that somewhere along the story line, Jack Pearson had died and I knew at some point we’d have to endure his death on the screen. It’s become more obvious in recent weeks that Jack’s death involved a fire. Fire touches nerves ‘round here and I didn’t feel too comfortable with knowing I would have to watch a house fire at some point if I remained dedicated to this show. But oh, I was already deeply dedicated.   

And then the Pearson’s neighbor packed up an old slow cooker (what most of us know as a Crock Pot) among other items and walked it all over to the Pearsons.

My heart may have actually stopped beating for a moment.      

I was mortified. I have waited and watched every single episode, only to relive my nightmare and watch this family lose their home and likely, their husband and father, to a house fire caused by a bad crock. Unbelievable. They did not seriously do that to me.

I’ve ridden the roller coaster of emotions the past few weeks through renewed grief, fear, panic, and the overwhelming feeling of loss and devastation.  This show has reminded me how deep and raw the fire remains not just for me, but for the whole herd. Every family member is affected. It’s not as raw as it was in the beginning, the night of that phone call that is forever seared in my memory. There has been healing. But the scars are still fairly fresh and they will always be there.

Just last night, Rough Stuff told me that sometimes when we pull up in front of our home and she steps out of the car, she can still smell the fire. The Big Guy has shared recently that he still feels guilt for not being able to save our stuff- all of the tangible memories that our family held dear; Rough Stuff’s porcelain doll, Tuna’s little stuffed bear, the magnets on the fridge that portrayed the kids’ kindergarten art projects. And our sweet Little Bean- she isn’t so little now, a middle schooler- is still processing through trauma therapy. She felt that she had to be strong and keep all of her feelings in while everyone else was breaking around her. Every one of us has our own unique scars from the fire.   
This fire changed us all and not all of the changes are bad. There is grace and strength and resiliency in our story. This week though, the bad is what is seeping through and that’s ok. Sometimes we have to let it fester up and work its way out. That’s part of the healing process. I just never expected a TV show to reopen the wounds. Who knew, huh?

I’ve seen a lot of chatter on social media this past week about whether slow cookers can cause house fires. Some people think it can’t happen, but I think what they really believe, or want to believe, is that it can’t happen to them. Yes, it can. Anything that is plugged in can short out and cause a fire. Newer homes, newer appliances, and newer electrical wiring all reduce the risk, but it can happen.

If you take anything at all from my story or from the Pearson’s story on This is Us, let it be this:

Check the batteries in your smoke alarms.
Our smoke alarms were working, until they melted off of their mounts.  

Turn off and unplug your appliances and don’t leave them operating when you are not at home.
Our family was away less than a half hour when the slow cooker shorted out. Just unplug it.    

Treasure each day with your loved ones- even the mundane school/work/practice loaded ones.

Because things happen. Things that can change your life in an instant.    

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Train, Derailed

Gosh, I've really missed this space. I didn't plan to leave it alone for this long. I was having a great time, slowly recapping our vacation and putting our itinerary and memories into words here for posterity. I was working and back in college and the blog was a bit neglected, but then all of a sudden...four months slipped by. Now, here we are with four months of dead air and an unfinished vacation recap that should have happened months ago. I was really struggling with keeping up with the kids and the two courses I was taking in October, but I was chugging along like the little train that could. And then my train derailed and we took a wild ride.

Depression and anxiety reared their ugly heads among my teenagers. One of the kids suffered second and third degree burns in a work accident. Our big dog, Jai took another bout of bronchitis - a recurring health issue after our house fire- and the sweet old boy just didn't have the strength left to fight it again. We lost him the next day. Just a few days later, we learned that the Big Guy's brother was in the emergency room, and then the ICU, and then hospice. Less than two days from being admitted, he passed away. We carried on empty through a funeral and Thanksgiving. Our oldest daughter and her boyfriend were hit by a truck; the driver was texting. The boyfriend required emergency surgery and spent a significant amount of time at the hospital. We were consumed with grief and worry, and completely exhausted. I had dropped one course and was hanging by a thread in the other one. Then, my dad took a turn for the worse. He had been fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer for almost two years and while he fought like a champ, his fighting days were over. December 14, he passed away at home with my mother. We had traveled to my hometown to see him before he passed and we made a quick trip back to pick up more kids and headed right back for the funeral.

Seriously. All that happened. In just a few months.    

We traveled back from the celebration of life service just days before Christmas. We put up the tree on Christmas Eve and coasted through Christmas on fumes. Then we just collapsed through the new year. I went back to school in early January and we just plowed right back into life.

So here we are. Everything from mid-October to late December is just a blur. Soon, I'll come back here and write. I need to relive the vacation through writing. It will be good for my spirits. But right now, I'm just not feeling it. And that's ok. I've got the train back on the track. I just need some time to build up momentum and find my voice again.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wally World Adventure, Day 3

After waking up to the carbon monoxide detector alarm in Colorado, we decided to just forgo showers and breakfast and get on the road. To this point, our camping club membership had not worked at any of the designated gas pumps for our gas discount, our bank cards had been locked down because we used them out of state in a high-fraud location, we were still hours behind schedule, we had slept in a Walmart parking lot, and now we were all just in a very bad mood from a rough morning start. We grabbed cereal bars, buckled our seat belts, and got on the road saying "shake it off." It wasn't too difficult- Colorado is a gorgeous state to drive and we had serious mountains ahead of us.

We entered a tunnel (a big one) and emerged into the most amazing canyons. The views were absolutely breathtaking. 

The mountains made for some very slow driving and navigating an RV through construction in the mountains is a special challenge. I held my breath a lot.  Like I said, breathtaking. We soon made our way into Utah which was equally impressive. 

We stopped for a quick break at this gorgeous rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Honest. There was nothing else to be found for miles. There was an older Navajo woman there selling handmade ornaments and jewelry from blankets on the sidewalk and we bought the cutest little ornaments for Christmas so we can remember this vacation every time we decorate the tree. We asked her where we were and she replied "in the middle of nowhere." I absolutely trusted her opinion and all of our smart phone apps concurred. Nowhere sure was pretty.  


So, let me tell you a little story about traveling to high altitude with pump bottles. My liter bottle of DevaCurl conditioner and a large bottle of Dove soap poured themselves all over the shower floor in the RV. Several times. Washing a cupful of good conditioner and liquid moisturizing soap down the drain with limited gray water storage in an RV, with a little hose, while trying to stand up in a slippery shower the size of a small bath mat is a special level of hell and I shared that hell with my children, quite loudly. I didn't yet understand that bringing a bottle with a pump into high altitude would cause it to explode or leak. I was sure my dear children were pumping it out for fun when they visited the potty. We all endured this ritual several times- me slip-sliding and cursing in the shower and them taking the blame- before we found that all of our chip bags had exploded and then the little light bulb went off in my head. I left the lids partially open the remainder of the trip and though I had one ugly little incident with the mustard bottle, most of our mountain driving proceeded with very little mess. 

Utah seemed to change colors with every turn. It was late in the day when we got close to Bryce Canyon, but I don't think we could have timed it any better if we'd tried. We rolled through Red Canyon just as the sun set on the brilliant red rocks. 

Our cameras couldn't do it justice at all. It was as if the rocks were on fire. It lasted only about twenty minutes, but I'll never forget the sight. We were driving along in amazement all "oohs" and "ahhhs" and then we came upon a little sign that read "tunnel ahead-13 feet" and we said not-so-pretty things because we, in our class A motorhome, were 13' 6". Suddenly we were all "what? Tunnel? They didn't mention anything about a stinkin' tunnel!" There were a few minutes of this-is-not-so-fun-anymore tension and then we rounded a curve and there it was. 


We told the kids that this trip was going to bring us all out of our comfort zone a little and by golly we weren't kidding. We waited for the oncoming cars to pass, I held my breath (because that helps), and the Big Guy drove us straight on through, right down the center line. No problem. (Deep deflating exhale.) We soon arrived at Ruby's Inn, a day later than planned, in the dark. It was all good though. A day of mountain driving had been good for the soul and this adventure was really taking shape. We were a long way from home and we were headed for the beach with lots of fun to come. In the morning, we would wake up and venture out to find a giant hole in the earth. 


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wally World Adventure, Kick-off, Days 1 & 2

If you missed the beginning of our Wally World Adventure, start here. Then just hit that sweet little "next" button at the bottom of the post to move forward.

We kicked off our vacation adventure with the One Direction concert in Kansas City. The girls found the tickets at the end of a Christmas day present scavenger hunt and Fish was absolutely speechless. They waited seven months for this moment and they were pumped. On a horridly humid 100° evening, we rolled into Arrowhead stadium with 55,500 other giddy teen girls and their mothers.

When the boys in the band approached the stage the noise level approached epic volumes. At some point, Niall Horan touched his crotch and the noise level reached a deafening pitch. I was hot, dehydrating, and deaf in my left ear, but I couldn't help but smile. The girls were smiling ear to ear and singing along with every song. It was truly magical. I couldn't think of a better way to kick off a vacation. 

Until morning came. The RV was not completely packed and we were physically exhausted from the late night before. We planned to roll out at 9:00, but by the time the RV was packed and everything was double checked, it was almost 3:00 in the afternoon. We were aiming for Aurora, CO but we cried Uncle in Oakley, Ks.

Our only stop worth noting on day 1, was the World's Largest Easel in Goodland, Kansas. We cooked dinner at a rest stop and finally rolled into a little RV park, still in Kansas. We were tired and beginning to realize that nothing was going to go according to plan because everything took longer than we had planned for including bathroom breaks, getting gas, and arguing over who got to sit where and who had control over the coveted colored pencils. 

The next morning, we vowed to start anew and make better time. After picking hundreds of stickers out of our carpet, our feet, the dogs' paws, and our flip-flops, we belted in and rolled out. As we moved through Kansas and into Colorado, the pavement seemed to climb right into the clouds. The landscape gave way to beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and more wind turbines than we could count. Our ears began to pop as we gained elevation and everyone's spirit climbed with the altitude. Now, we were on vacation.

Our second day took us into Colorado, which was absolutely beautiful. Our pit stops were getting faster and more efficient and the girls had developed a seating chart which eliminated some of the bickering, but we just couldn't make up for all the lost time. We were aiming for Bryce Canyon, Utah but we gave up in Aurora, Colorado. 

We had dinner in the cutest little restaurant somewhere in Colorado and then headed for a campground recommended by the waiter.  We never found said campground but we did take a very hairy drive through the mountains in the dark and we all saw our lives flash before our eyes as the Big Guy turned our 32' Cebu around on a narrow gravel road perched on the edge of a cliff. We finally made our way back to the interstate and we exhausted every app on our smart phones looking for an RV park with full hook-ups before declaring defeat and pulling into a Walmart parking lot in Avon, Colorado. 

A quick call to the manager for approval, a potty break for the dogs, and we were all in bed with our hearts set on a good night sleep. The next morning, we would drive like mad for Utah and though we would lose our extra day to rest there, we would finally be on track with our itinerary.       

This is the gorgeous view that greeted us over Walmart...when we awoke the next morning ten minutes before our alarms were the blaring beeps of our carbon monoxide detectors. We had turned off the air conditioner while running the generator all night because Colorado is chilly at night. Apparently, that is a big no-no in an RV. So, there we all stood, in our pajamas, in the Walmart parking lot, with the dogs, alarms beeping, windows thrown open wide for ventilation, Rough Stuff feeling nauseous. Yep. We were definitely on vacation now. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Wally World Adventure

This family has had a rough few 6 years. We've been through some stuff, you know? Stuff like job loss, going back to school, broken hips, broken toes, broken wrists, broken ankles, gallbladder surgery, adhesion surgery, hip surgery, growth hormones, and oh...that big one...FIRE. We were kind of busy there for a bit. We kept up with holidays and our share of birthday parties and weekend projects, but we never did fit in an actual vacation. There was no time, and no money, and well, it just wasn't happening.

This past year, we began to dream a little. What if we could take a vacation? What if we could get another little travel trailer? Where could we go? Could we make it happen? Could we actually squeeze it in between college semesters and the kids' school schedules? As we finally wrapped up our fire/insurance settlement, we decided there was only one way to really get the closure we needed. We were just going to do it. We were taking a vacation!

We sold our travel trailer along with everything else we could for necessary cash when we were rebuilding the house and the truck we used to pull a trailer with is old and tired so we had to go to the drawing board and really wrestle with how to make this happen. Then, one day, all the pieces started to fall together and after much research, we bought this-

Meet the Cebu. As in 'the mute cebu.' If you don't understand the reference to the 'mute cebu' then you have obviously never been held captive in a minivan for hours with a cassette tape playing Silly Songs with Larry and five kids singing about a water buffalo and Larry's hairbrush. (In that case, I don't know if I envy you or dislike you.) A cebu is a water buffalo and for reasons entirely unknown, the Big Guy decided to christen our new RV The Cebu. Personally, I would have called it the Family Truckster, but then I don't usually name my vehicles so I didn't have a dog in this fight. 

We drove the Cebu home and announced to the kids that we were taking a vacation! They were mostly impressed that the Cebu has stairs that automatically retract when you open and close the door. The Big Guy and I began working out the details of our vacation while the kids opened and closed the door umpteen-eleven times to make sure the steps really would still slide out and turned on and off every button and switch in the RV. 

The only real problems with the Cebu were that it needed new tires and it was ugly. I'm serious. The interior looked like Grandma Gertrude's sewing basket. (I don't have a Grandma Gertrude, but I'm sure if I did this is the fabric her sewing basket would be covered in.)

Also, it was super clean. So, we got new tires and bought some blankets and throw pillows to cover up the ugly floral fabric with and tossed some kids, some dogs, and all of their accompanying mess and dirt in there and we called it a vacation home. 

We loaded up the Cebu in late July and set out on what we called a Griswold-style family vacation. We were driving from Missouri to California (Wally World anyone?) and stopping at as many sites as possible on the way out and back. It would be a 14  17 day trip of a lifetime. The Big Guy had never traveled west at all and I had never driven west. The kids had never been out of the immediate Midwest. There would be sights we had never seen before. We were going to see mountains, canyons, deserts, and ocean- just as soon as we actually got on the road.  

Let me just tell you- loading an RV with three kids (the oldest two have flown the nest), two dogs, mom and dad, and enough supplies for 14 days is quite a challenge. Doing it while working full-time and wrapping up a semester in college might be bordering insanity. Trying to do all of that while preparing for the upcoming school year before you leave because you'll be back the day before school starts? Well, I don't recommend it, but we're living proof it can be done. (We might have left at 3:00 pm instead of 9:00 am, and we might have been totally exhausted, but hey- done is done.)

I will try, in the next several blog posts, to share with you the pure joy and the inevitable insanity of a 14-day-turned-17-day vacation with a family of 5 in a 32' motor-home that covered 10 states. 

It. Was. Amazing.    

And, it was very healing. It was definitely a point of closure. I feel like now we talk about the vacation much more than the fire or the insurance. I hope that this vacation will live on in the young herd's memories for a lifetime. This was definitely the break this family needed.  


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Birthday Party #70, I Think

Is this #70? 71? I don't even know anymore.

Here is what I do know:

I know that my sweet little Fish turned 15! She wanted to celebrate with a glow party in the backyard, complete with baked potatoes at the fire pit and s'mores. The thing is, Mother Nature conspired to ruin that whole plan. June rolled around and it rained. And rained. And rained. And then, the cicadas came like a plague from the depths of hell. They crawled up the house, the trees, the car. The sound they made was deafening and the fear they induced was paralyzing. So, we postponed until last Friday.

Thursday night it stormed. I'm talking, full on storm. Our yard looked like Mother Nature threw tree confetti. There were leaves and branches everywhere and the yard was a swamp. We couldn't postpone again, so we moved the party indoors and opted for pizza.

We covered a hula hoop with neon pink and yellow surveyor's tape and laced it with glow sticks to create a chandelier. We had planned to hang it between the trees for a centerpiece, but it worked well dangling from the family room ceiling. 


We bought black light reactive face and body paint and glow-in-the-dark nail polish and turned 9 teenage girls loose in front of the bathroom mirror. I may or may not have said filthy things when I saw the bathroom, but the whole mess cleaned up with a wet cloth. The girls were entertained for a few hours. By the end of the party, they had emptied the paint tubes and painted pretty much every visible inch of skin (and some that should have remained out of sight). It was the best $30 we've ever spent on party entertainment. 

The cake was not my best effort and I threatened a stank eye for anyone who considered posting this as a Pinterest fail. That goes for you as well, dear reader. Alas, I topped it with 15 candles and a few glowing stars and called it good.   

That was pretty much it- cake, pizza, a lot of soda, 9 teenage girls, a lot of glow paint, and a whole lot of glow sticks. They painted their faces and threw a glow ball and painted their faces and played giant jenga and painted their faces. We found paint on the walls, the sofa, the tile floor...did I mention they painted, um...everything?  

And that sweet little Fish? She told me she loved it. I love that girl. 

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.)