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It's either been three months or a million years, I'm not sure which. Three months since the fire. Three months since we said goodbye to our house and all our plans and dreams for it. Three months means that for every four nights we spent in our home, we've been gone for one. (I don't remember if I've specifically mentioned, but the fire happened one year and one day after we bought the house.)
It crosses my mind sometimes, what our lives were like Before. We spend so much time discussing house designs and plans and our finances, I don't remember what we did with our time Before. What did we talk about? What will we talk about once the building is done?
We're doing OK. Max is still, miraculously, getting great grades and has made some good friends at school. We have good days and not so good days, but the good outweigh the not so.
I've noticed that when I post photos of us on social media, there are a lot of “Happy to see you smiling!” comments… but here's the thing. We're busy trying to live our lives. We're making the best of what we've got, and can't spend the rest of our days mourning what we've lost.
Are there days that we'll miss things? Of course there are. Am I worried about the sadness that Christmas is sure to bring? Abso-freaking-lutely. Can I dwell on it every day? No thank you.
Because here's the thing.
This is a valid portrait of our family:
But so is this, taken a few weeks after the above photo:
If we spent our lives waiting for the storm to pass, we'd never get anything done.
The first thing that needs to happen before that can take place though, is to find a builder and a plan. I'm so excited to share that we signed a contract with a builder yesterday, and the plan creation is underway! It's so satisfying to finally have some forward motion to help us feel like we're moving through this faster than frozen molasses.
Because of our unfortunately limited insurance coverage, we won't be able to rebuild the same size home we had; we're losing several hundred square feet, but are also taking the opportunity to reallocate the space so it's maximized for the way we live our lives. We plan on living in this house for a very long time, so we're designing it for our needs, and it's a pretty exciting process.
I actually designed these little puzzle pieces for rooms and spaces we need, to help us visualize the way things could fit together. It's been really hard for us to get out of what we had, and really start from scratch, so this is useful. I can't wait to share our future plans, we've got a couple of pretty exciting ideas, so our home should be really special.
We never thought we would build a house, it's just not something that was even on our radar, so we're trying to enjoy the process and focus on moving forward.
There have been so many lessons we've learned over the last three months, and I'm sure there are still so many more to come. Things we've done, things we wished we'd done differently, and things we know now for the future. I'm sure I could write a whole series of posts, but I'll just brain dump a few things here for now.
- Check your insurance limits. Are they enough? We were drastically underinsured for both our dwelling and our belongings, so we won't be “made whole” in insurance speak. The numbers may seem huge when considered in the abstract (“There's no way I have $300,00 worth of stuff in my house!”) but if you actually start making an inventory of everything you own, those numbers add up quick. There's a difference between “cash value” and “replacement value” so figure out if you can cover for replacement. If I bought a sofa at Macy's seven years ago and paid $1500 for it, cash value will cover it for a depreciated amount based on the age of it at the time of the loss, so probably like $250-300. Replacement value coverage would pay closer to $2000, or whatever a comparable couch sells for today. Those numbers are dramatically different, especially when you consider them at the scale of an entire household.
- Be friendly to everyone you meet, it may benefit you some day! Jamie and I have both gone out of our way to be kind to people trying to help us, whether it's the volunteers at the food bank, the FEMA registration assistants, or a receptionist at the Office of Emergency Services. I have offered to share our story whenever given the opportunity, so that people in positions to help learn from our experience and can make it smoother for when this happens again (Because at this rate, climate change isn't going anywhere, so this WILL happen again) We found out last week that our property had been marked as High Priority for clearing, so we will be among the first to get ours done.
- Accept all the help that's offered. This goes for food donations, gift cards, mental health resources, anything. These things are in place for a reason, and you pay taxes for a reason. When you need everything, it feels overwhelming to accept that much, but that what it's there for.
- Did I mention make sure your insurance limits are high enough? This has been the single largest stressor for us through this, not knowing what the numbers would look like, not knowing if we'd be able to build a house even close to what we had.
- Create a dedicated file. On our first trip to Target, the day after, I bought an accordian file for all things fire. It's been the spot where we drop anything and everything fire-related, from insurance letters to gift cards that we aren't ready to spend yet, so everything is in one place and easy to find when we need to reference that one conversation (because we take notes on every phone call) or email or form that was submitted.
- Don't assume you'll be contacted when needed. We've been caught off-guard by how seemingly disorganized some of these things appear to be, but there are a LOT of moving parts that don't normally work together, so things are bound to slip through the cracks. We've made a habit of checking in with the various contacts at the departments, just to touch base and make sure they aren't waiting on anything from us. Never underestimate the power of a “Just wanted to touch base and see if there's anything you need from me” email.
- Here's something to do now: Create a family email address. It can just be a gmail, or something custom if you own a domain. I did NOT do this and wish now that I had. All of the government agencies and private companies and everyone you talk to will want to email, so a single address that's dedicated for all things emergency related would be a huge help for keeping things organized and easy to find.
Ways to Help
There are a number of ways you can help our family. Simply reading my blog, sharing my posts, and purchasing items through my affiliate links are easy ways. I make ad revenue from page views, and earn commissions when my links are used to buy items. I'm an affiliate for many sites, so you can shop Amazon here, or even Etsy! (The commission there is paid by Etsy, not the small shop you're supporting, so that's a win win!)
We had a bunch of stuff on our Family Emergency Wish List on Amazon, and we're so grateful to everyone who contributed to the things we needed in those early days. As the weather changes now, and we're heading into winter, we're shifting our needs into longer term things for the cold, now that the urgent needs are covered.
We started a registry for our household needs as well, but aren't ready to start storing that stuff yet, and it's not even close to complete. We have incredibly limited storage space, between my parents garage, the shed here where we're staying and my sister's shed down in the Bay Area, so we're limiting our acquisition of stuff until we're actually making progress on construction.
That said, we can always use money. Like I've mentioned a few times here, we were woefully underinsured and are scrambling to find funds for the build and then to furnish the finished house. Our GoFundMe is live until early December, and we have Paypal and Venmo as well. Gift cards are also always welcome, for almost anything, from groceries to Home Depot to Michaels and HomeGoods.
You can also order from my business, Pew Pew Lasercraft! I make laser cut home decor and accessories, and love doing custom orders, so every order placed also helps us get one step closer to our rebuild.
Follow our Journey
While I'll definitely blog through a lot of what's to come, you'll find more ongoing stuff on our home Instagram account, MakeThisHomeTV, and my TikTok channel, PewPewLasercraft. It's going to be an adventure, and we'd love to have you along for the ride.