Life After Fire: One Year Update


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Two years ago yesterday, we closed escrow on what we thought would be our “forever home,” the place we would live until we moved to what we call our future “old people condo.”

One year ago today, that plan went up in smoke when it was all burned down by the River Fire, a fast moving wildfire that started just a few miles from our home.

We lost everything we owned with few exceptions: All the heartbeats made it out, a bin of my random childhood memories, Max's “NICU box” and a couple boxes of photos. The TransPorter has always been a main component of our disaster plan, so we have that too, along with all of the camping equipment we store inside.

But that's pretty much it.

Here's the tl;dr for this post: We're doing OK. Construction has started on the new house, Jamie got a new dream job this spring, and I'm still working away at Pew Pew Lasercraft. We're so grateful to my mother-in-law for giving us a place to stay, removing a pretty huge burden from our recovery. But we're doing OK and moving forward. #Onward

Construction Update

Poured slab house under construction
Photo taken Tuesday, August 2
Photo taken Wednesday August 3. Seriously.

As I write this, construction is underway and zipping along at a decent clip. Sitting here now, less than a month after breaking ground, we are hoping for an early February 2023 move-in, any bonus days we get are just that, bonus.

Lumber delivery happened this week, so they're saying we should start to see a house-shaped structure soon! We stop by every night to see what the crew has been up to, and occasionally when something exciting is happening, like Jamie and I excitedly watched the lumber delivery on Monday morning.

I don't think I've posted here about the house itself. Unfortunately, due to being underinsured (more on that later) and the inflated costs of everything, we are rebuilding smaller than what we had, but we also don't think it will impact us too badly.

Mockup of home design
Just one of the potential color schemes we're considering… open to other suggestions!

We're going from a 3BR/3BA, 2500 sq. foot home to 3 BR/2.5 BA, 1600 sq foot home. While we're losing square footage, we're actually gaining a guest room! The design is essentially a 1600 sq ft house plopped on top of a 1600 sq ft garage. I'll have a dedicated workspace down there, along with Jamie being able to build the woodshop of his dreams, and we'll have indoor parking for the trailer.

Previously, I used the 3rd bedroom as my workspace, so now that that has moved to the garage, we'll have a dedicated space to host guests, so please don't hesitate to come visit once we're built! If nothing else, know that we can be a respite from Tahoe bound traffic if you need that.

If you're interested in allll the house updates (and chances to help us make some decisions on things!) you can follow our Instagram account, MakeThisHomeTV and we've also created a Facebook group for all things rebuild.

Max Update

Max is such a champ. This kid never fails to amaze me. He has high school orientation today, and starts his freshman year next week. He's made a couple of really good friends up here, so he's looking forward to this new chapter.

A family of three sitting on the site of their future home, smiling at the camera.

I have often worried about him, because he seems to be handling this all so well. We had a minor fire scare last week, with a small, quickly controlled grass fire just a few blocks from our property. He and I sat together, hitting refresh on Twitter and kept in constant contact with our neighbor who was home at the time. I don't think any of us would have slept that night if hadn't been so quickly contained.

Cause of Fire

CalFire officials announced in March that “after a thorough investigation, including the examination of evidence and interviewing of witnesses, there is no evidence to support any malicious intent or criminal activity at this time.” So basically, it was human caused but it was a terrible accident.

Some people have asked if the people who started it will be brought to charges. I can't worry about that. There are rumors in town about the specifics, but all I know is that the people who started it will live with that for the rest of their lives. Hell, maybe they're kids who will grow up to be firefighters and will save lives. Maybe they'll become civil servants who help fight climate change and forest management. I can't waste my energy on revenge. I'm busy rebuilding my life.

Current Challenges

We're actually in pretty good shape at the moment; we may face some of the usual construction delays as supply chain issues arise, but at least we're OK to finish construction.

It's hard not to shop with a vengeance. We have limited storage space, and have already received so much that we have to be picky right now about what we can justify storing.

We put a TuffShed on our property a bit ago, to give us room there, plus we've basically taken over 2 of the 3 garage bays at my parents' house. We have a chair in my sister's shed, a bench that Jamie built in my parents' hallway, and a few things in Lucinda's second shed here. (We've already taken over the first shed with materials for the business lol)

We are working on a household registry for those who want to help us furnish when we're ready for that. Have you ever tried to make a list of literally everything you need to build a life? It's a LOT. From trash cans for the bathroom to wooden spoons for cooking to beach towels and garden hoses. We add to the list as things pop up, but I'm also 1000% sure we'll miss things.


  • Please don't refer to us as “victims,” we're survivors.
  • When Max was in the NICU, I remember sitting next to his isolette and thinking to myself, “Someday, this will be a blip. The days seem eternal now, but there WILL come a time that this was nothing more than a bump in the road, nothing more than a moment. You just have to get through it now so that you can get there eventually.” This applies here too. I know that the frustrations I feel on an ongoing basis will eventually be a memory. We'll move into our custom-designed new home and move on from this. Eventually it will be a bump in the road. OK, more than a bump. More like a side quest in a video game.
  • You probably don't have enough homeowners insurance. Please review your coverages and make sure. Do a rough number for your belongings. I first knew that we were in trouble when I started making an inventory in the days immediately following. I started outside because it was the easiest for me to mentally make a list. I was at $16,000 before I even got to our things inside the house. Our total coverage for our belongings was $50,000. That left $34,000 for everything in the kitchen, the garage, our furniture, Jamie's records and my cameras (both collectible and digital) Max's LEGO collection was up to about $8,000 when he gave up because it was too upsetting. Find out what it would cost to build your current house at today's prices. You'll be shocked.
  • My relationship with “stuff” has changed dramatically. I've always been a collector. When I was a kid, I collected Americana, inspired by my birthday. As a young adult it was CDs and movies on DVD. And shoes. Oh, my shoes. 🙁 More recently, I had amassed a collection of antique Kodak cameras. It's hard for me to think about spending on things like that now, because what if it all went up in flames again? Such a waste of money. Did the joy I get from owning all these things outweigh the potential experiences I could have had instead? The security of having that money in the bank?
    I'm not saying you should burn your house down to reduce clutter, but I'm finding that it's much easier for me to pass on things I don't NEED now.

How you can help

We do still occasionally have people ask how they can help us… it's hard now, because we're in such limbo as far as stuff is concerned, with lots of need and very little space to hold onto things.

Affiliate shopping through my links are an easy, low-effort way to help us add to our build fund. I earn a commission, and your price is not impacted at all. You can shop Amazon by using my affiliate link here, looking for that special something? How about an Etsy link? If you're buying a Glowforge, I've got a link for that too, and it'll save you some cash. If you're considering an Aeon laser (I can't recommend them highly enough!) simply call their sales department and let them know I sent you. If you still aren't using Rakuten to save on things you're already buying online, then join here and start earning for most of the sites you're already shopping on!

As I said before, we've set up a Housewarming Registry and will share that link when we're ready, but every little bit helps us recover from this and move on.

Any questions?

Now that it's been a year, I feel like I'm ready to start working on more content relating to our experiences and what we've learned so you can learn from what we did and didn't do. What do you want to know? I'm pretty much an open book about this stuff, so don't hesitate to ask! If I don't wanna answer, I won't. 🙂

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One Comment

  1. You have perfectly put to words SO much of exactly how I feel about this experience. Was it life changing? Absolutely. Will I let it define my life? Not a chance in hell. We will move on and be better because of this. We are moving on and are better because of it. My kids have seen the best examples of grit, tenacity, perseverance and humanity and will have those experiences to help them in their lives.
    Keep writing, I’m excited to see where both of our stories go.
    – Whitney

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