From The Ashes


(March 1, 2014)

     Back in April 2012, I started a blog called From The Ashes. Still less than a year out from a more or less total loss house fire, it was kind of cathartic to sit on the couch and write about the experience. Additionally, it was my hope that I might be able to offer some useful advice and encouragement to folks who had also suffered through the same type of disaster. For about a year, I kept at it here and there but then I ran out of gas.

    You see, one of the things I’ve learned as we approach the three year anniversary of our fire is that as time goes by, you get tired of talking about it.. And thinking about it…being reminded of it. But that’s not to say there isn’t some good stuff on From The Ashes. And, there’s some things I want to finish up and add to it. But once that’s done, I’ll be done with it.  And there wouldn’t be much point to having a stagnant blog sitting there costing me $14.99 a year in domain registration fees.  So what I’m going to do is transfer FTA’s content to a dedicated page here on It Came From The Nerd Cave.  As I’ve steadily rebuilt my nerd empire, I’ve learned some lessons on what you, the individual nerd, can do to protect your investments of time, money, and love.

     Once it’s polished up and done, it’s my hope that down the road, somebody who’s lost everything in a fire, flood, hurricane, or tornado will stumble upon this page and feel a little bit of encouragement or find some useful advice for dealing with the practical matters of rebuilding one’s life. Please keep me in mind if you know anybody who goes through a major loss and point them in my direction. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or e-mail me at Thanks.


The content below originally appeared on From The Ashes between March, 2012 & Mary, 2014.  For now, I’ve decided to order the content from oldest to newest.

(April 10, 2012)

     Welcome to From the Ashes.  Simply put, this blog is for individuals and families who’ve been through the tragedy of a house fire.  If you’re recovering from a fire, I am truly sorry and I know what you’re going through.  If there’s one thing I want you to take away from here, it’s that things WILL GET BETTER.  With that being said, the recovery process, even with the help of friends, family and oftentimes from strangers, will demand that you work harder than you may ever have in your life.

     A few days after our fire, a co-worker & friend who’d been through a fire told me things would get better.  I didn’t believe her.  I was deeply depressed and could not imagine a day when I’d feel happy again. But I know now, nearly a year later, that she was right.  It’s my sincere hope that by sharing my family’s experience, I can give you some useful advice, encouragement, and most of all, hope.

An Important Note

     I’m not a house fire expert, attorney, doctor, insurance adjuster, and I’m certainly not a psychiatrist.  I’m just a husband and father who went through a terrible experience and came out (I think) better and stronger than I was before.  In matters of safety, insurance, legal issues, and other such areas, please ALWAYS defer to the experts in your particular case.  No house fire is just like another.  Things I encountered will differ greatly from your experience so always use common sense and good judgment.  Thanks.

Who am I?

     I’m 42 years old, a father of a 6 year old son and an 8 year old daughter. My wife and I are best friends and have been happily married for 21 years.  I am a veteran of the U.S. Army and have a B.A. degree in Criminal Justice. I’ve worked in the Alabama judicial system since 1993.  My hobbies are too many to list.  If it’s nerdy, I’m probably involved in it—comic books, movies, modeling, reading, amateur astronomy, computers, and gaming to name a few.  And in June of 2011, our lives changed forever in a single moment.

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved.

(April 11, 2012)

The back of our home

The back of our home

     Our home was a 1900 square foot, four bedroom, one-story with brick on the front and sides. The back had partial brick and vinyl siding.  It was built in 2001 and we were the original owners. It was our first home and we fell in love with it the day we saw it. Our bedroom was on one side of the house and our kids’ on the opposite. This is the very popular “split floor plan” that’s great for not disturbing sleeping infants but maybe not so much for fire safety. I’ll talk more about that topic in a later post.

     At 10:45 on a Sunday night, my wife Sharon and I were in our bedroom and our kids were long asleep.  I was watching Finding Bigfoot on T.V. and she was reading a novel on her Nook.  We heard a soft banging sound.  It sounded like one of our cats pawing open a kitchen cabinet and letting it slam shut. That was pretty common so we ignored it.

     Within 30 seconds, the sound became a loud “POP…POP…POP.” At that point we got up and walked quickly to the kitchen.  The noise sounded exactly like fireworks and we both wondered aloud, “who the Hell is shooting off fireworks in June?”

     As we entered the kitchen, I remember thinking “why is my kitchen orange?”  And then we saw the flames engulfing our back porch from floor to ceiling.  It took a second or two to process what I was seeing.  My wife said “I’ll get the kids out” and I, thinking I might have a chance to extinguish the flames, unlocked the back door and ran outside towards our garden hose.

     I got to the faucet, cranked it on full power, and dragged the hose around the corner towards the back porch.  It was then that I realized we were in deep trouble.  It was instantly apparent that the hose would have no effect on the blaze.  I could see straight up through the flames into our attic because the vinyl siding ceiling of our porch had melted away.  I learned later that the popping noise we’d heard was the pine lumber in the attic exploding as it burned—just like pine logs will do in a fireplace.

     I sprinted back into the house and collided with my 7 year old daughter.  She was disoriented and had made a left instead of a right towards the front door.  My wife had my 5 year old son in her arms.  I pushed my daughter towards my wife, grabbed a cordless phone, and dialed 911 as I ran out the front door.  I had no dial tone—by then, the fire had already short-circuited wires in the attic and tripped the breakers. My handset was battery powered but the base station sat dead.

     I ran to the house nextdoor and pounded on the front door.  I could see my neighbor through a side window and I yelled at him to call 911.   Within a minute, flames were already licking out from under the eaves of my son’s room on the opposite side of the house. At that point, our entire attic was likely engulfed in flames.

      I approached our open front-door.  My mind was racing but I thought I might have time to go back in and get our two cats out.  Thick black smoke was boiling out of the doorway.  I’ve said it hundreds of times; this was NOTHING like you see on T.V. or movies like Backdraft.  I was 25 feet from the fire and I couldn’t see a thing through the smoke. It was a solid mass of pure black.

      Both our cats, sisters who we raised from tiny kittens, died in the fire.  Keebler was a tabby and Littles was all black.  They were the sweetest little things.  I know I couldn’t have gone back in the house and made it back out but I still wonder if I should’ve tried.

     It took the fire department about 8 minutes to arrive.  It felt like 30.  I didn’t know it then but the fire station 2½ miles from our home was closed for renovation and the fire fighters had to come from a station about 5 or 6 miles away.  I felt totally  helpless standing there while our home burned.

     Luckily, my wife’s brother and his wife lived nearby and were able to take our kids to their home.  Other than a brief glimpse of flames coming from the roof as they were whisked away, they didn’t see the house burn.  We never took them back to see the ruins.

     It took the fire fighters nearly 3 hours to fully extinguish the fire.  75% of our roof burned away.  Because they had to put so much water into the attic, the ceilings that didn’t burn early on collapsed under the weight of saturated insulation and debris.  Every room was damaged by flames, heat, smoke and water.  My daughter’s room was completely gutted.  Drywall doesn’t burn but everything else in her room was charred black.

     In the coming days, I’ll talk about the aftermath, from the moment my neighbors went back to bed & the firefighters left, to the days, weeks, and months that followed. I’ll be focusing on what was for me the worst part of the recovery process–the contents inventory for our insurance claim.  I also plan on discussing ways everyone should prepare for a fire, from having a fire escape plan, to the records you should keep for insurance purposes in the event you are ever faced with such a tragedy.

     If you’ve gotten this far, thank-you for your time.  I’ll be adding an e-mail address soon if anyone has questions.  Until then, feel free to post a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.


Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved.

(April 14, 2012)

Our back porch

Our back porch


The front of our home

The front of our home


Our front door

Our front door


Our front porch

Our front porch













     What now?  That became the question of the century for us.  We should have been asleep in our beds but instead our lives had been turned upside down just like that.

     My wife Sharon and I stood there numb.  The firefighters had gone above and beyond the call of duty by carrying out family portraits as well as about 15 photo albums that had been on a shelf in our dining room.  They’d also retrieved my wife’s wallet from a basket in a kitchen cabinet. Several of our neighbors were still outside helping take the pictures from the water & smoke-damaged frames.

      I’d hoped that our cats had escaped through one of the open doors.  If so, I knew they’d be scared and it would likely be morning before they’d turn up.  A fire fighter had told me they’d not found either but that they’d seen animals emerge from pretty badly burned homes.

     Eventually, one of the fire captains approached me and told me that they’d extinguished the fire and checked for hot spots.  Basically, they were done.  Still in shock, I didn’t know if I could enter the house or if an investigator would be arriving to begin seeking the cause of the fire.  I asked “can I go in?” and the captain replied “it’s all yours Sir.”  I remember thinking that was an odd way to put it but hey, we were all exhausted. Let’s face it, there’s really no good way for that conversation to end.

     The fire trucks left the scene and by now, my neighbors had mostly returned to bed. As is common in Alabama in June, there wasn’t any breeze to speak of and a thick, stinking pall of smoke and steam hung over the neighborhood. As I sat on my lawn, I realized that blood was running down my right leg.  I found a large chunk of skin had been stripped from my knee.  I have zero recollection of falling but can only deduce that it happened when I ran out the back door.

     What now?  That was the question that my wife and I tried to sort through.   I’ve always been a proponent of preparedness.  We had extra food, stored water, candles, etc. We were ready for things like ice storms, power outages, and zombie outbreaks.  But this was something for which I don’t think anyone can really prepare.

     We decided that Sharon would go to her brother’s house to be with our kids.  As bad as it may sound, I actually didn’t want to see them.  I knew they were physically fine but I didn’t know how they were emotionally.  I absolutely believed that the last thing they needed to see was their father breaking down and I had no doubt that’s what would happen when I laid eyes on them.

     For much of the preceding 4 or 5 hours, my mind had been occupied with one thought: how would my kids ever feel safe in their beds again?  As parents, it is our number one job to keep our children safe.  As I stood there, I felt that I’d failed miserably.

     I talked to family and friends about that feeling in the subsequent days and they all assured me that I had kept my little ones safe.  We’d gotten them out of the house, period.  I guess it depends on your definition of “safe.”  It’s something I still struggle with to this day although I think I’ve come to grips with it.  Obviously we can’t change the past and the kids seem to have weathered the event as well as I could have ever dreamed. It’s a topic I’ll explore in a future post.

      So, after discussing it for a minute or two, I told my wife that I’d stay at the house and she should go to the kids.  She wasn’t happy but I was insistent.  Within a few minutes, I sat alone on my driveway with the still steaming remains of my home to my back.

     I’d been given a small LED key-chain flashlight and a pair of Crocs shoes since I’d run out barefoot.  It was 3:30 AM and after the din of the firetrucks generators and all the other noises, the neighborhood was deathly quiet.  I didn’t have a watch but I could tell that the minutes weren’t passing quickly.  I decided not to wait for daylight to explore the ruins of my house. That proved to be a bit of a mistake.

Next time—Nails, wires, hot coals, and a bashed head.

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved.

(April 26, 2012)

       I entered the house with only the tiny LED keychain light.  I’d been given a pair of Crocs by my wife’s boss who’d come to our house after she’d called him.  As I stepped into what was once our front foyer, my feet sank several inches into a warm muck of water, insulation, drywall (from the ceiling) and other debris.  The stench was overpowering and was one I’d smell often (and come to despise) for the next several weeks.  Almost immediately, I felt sharp pains in both feet. I’m not trying to sound tough, but I ignored it and pressed on.

     I later found that I had 2nd (and maybe 3rd) degree burns on the tops of both feet. There must’ve been hot coals down in that mess that had gotten into the holes in the sides of my Crocs. I never got any medical attention for them but probably should have.  A week after the fire, I was virtually unable to walk with shoes on and it took nearly a  month for the wounds to heal.

     Within another few steps, I stepped onto a nail.  I’m not a carpenter so I don’t know what these particular little monsters are called.  They’re nails with big square, metal heads that are used to secure the tar paper that’s laid under the shingles.  The square makes them brutal little booby traps and here I was wearing foam rubber shoes in the dark.

     I was also introduced to a jungle of wires hanging down from the remains of the ceiling and attic.  These were the wires that make air ducts springy.  They were dangling everywhere, snatching at my clothes and eyes.

    This whole time, my mind is racing as I stumbled through the wreckage of our home.  I was going through the “please let this be a nightmare” phase of the night.  I made my way back to my kids’ rooms and BAM…I walk smack into the attic drop-down door that usually sat flush with the hallway ceiling.  I caught the corner right to my temple and reeled in pain. That was the first of three times I would hit the thing…slow learner I guess.

     My kids’ rooms were in total ruins.  My wife and I had put so much effort into giving them the best rooms we could.  I’d always been proud of the job we’d done.  My daughter’s room was totally burned up.  It turned out to be the most damaged room in the house.

     Only two of her possessions survived the fire. One was a small ceramic cross that said “God Bless This Baby Girl” and the other, a small ceramic angel figurine that my Aunt had given her when she was born.  The cross was broken but repairable.  Everything else in her room was burned to embers and ashes.

       My son’s room suffered some flame damage but mostly water and smoke.  His books were soaked and ruined–the art on his walls blackened beyond recognition.  The model airplanes that once hung from his ceiling laid in melted heaps on the floor and furniture.

     As I stood there in the darkness staring at my children’s rooms, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.  I was grateful that nobody was around to see it. I don’t admit this to get sympathy.  I would like to think of myself as your average tough guy but seeing the rooms in which your kids slept and played their whole lives reduced to such a disgusting mess would require a heart harder than mine to hold back the emotions.  To be honest, it wasn’t the last time I’d cry in the coming days.

     I got my act together and spent maybe an hour trying to salvage things from the house but the darkness made the place much treacherous than it already was.  I managed to retrieve a dozen or so Rubbermaid containers (about the size of a breadbox) that housed many of my son’s toys. They had been in the dining room that only suffered minor flame damage. I dug them out from under piles of soaking wet insulation and drywall. Most of those toys turned out to be a bit wet and smoky but were ultimately cleanable.  In fact, I still have a few boxes in our garage awaiting cleaning, which can be a long process with a toothbrush.

     As daylight dawned, my wife, a good friend from work and others returned to the house. By that time, I was as exhausted as I’d ever been in my life.  The light revealed that much of what I’d thought was salvageable in the dark really wasn’t.  I didn’t want to think about it anymore and laid down in my driveway and tried to sleep.  People tell me I slept for about two hours but it didn’t feel that way.  And I certainly didn’t wake up from a dream.

   In my upcoming posts, I’ll be relying less on a narrative description of the events following our fire.  I will instead be focusing on specific events & phases of our recovery and describe how I handled them at the time and how I’d handle them differently now if I could.  It’s my hope that people in the same position can learn from my mistakes and benefit from the things I did right.  Thanks again for taking the time.

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved

(May 10, 2012)

     A bit of a departure from what I’ve been doing.  Writing a chronological account of our fire recovery turned out to be a bit of a drag.  So, I’ve decided, in order to get back to actually posting, to kind of skip around and write about what’s on my mind.

     I took a mental health day off from work today.  My job has a “use it or lose it” policy with vacation time so what can I do?  There’s always something to do around here but I had considered just laying around and chilling out.  Besides, I’ve got tendonitis in my knee which I probably should be resting.

     But I decided to compromise and spend the morning working around the house. One of the monkeys on my back is our storage room.  After we moved in, it became a dumping ground for boxes and plastic bins of things salvaged from the fire.  Even as we near the one year anniversary of that night, we still have several bins of things that still need to be sorted, cleaned and put in their places.

     Dealing with those things is a guaranteed ticket to memories of the fire and the rough subsequent weeks. In the time following the fire, I would frequently be driving down the road, sitting at my desk or walking to lunch and I’d become angry. Something would remind me of a possession I’d lost, our cats, or the moment when I first saw flames, and I’d grit my teeth and clench my fists. In a few moments, the feeling would pass but I’d be in a bad mood for awhile.

     Even as time has passed, I still have these moments but they seem to be fewer and farther between.  Today, I opened a box and came across some snapshots from my days in the Army.  I’d gathered them up with the intention of putting together a scrapbook. They had been in a shoebox in a closet and while they escaped the flames, water has turned them into what is essentially a brick.  I tried to peel them apart but they’re pretty much a loss.  These were taken back in the days before digital, so there are no back-ups.  These are it.

     I felt the anger rearing its ugly head.  I started thinking about the thousands of books I’d lost, my comic book collection, everything in my daughter’s room.  But then, a familiar phrase came to mind–“it’s only stuff.”

     That’s a phrase that I’ve heard, thought, or said hundreds of times in the last year. And the bottom line is it’s true.  Sure I can’t replace those old photographs, and a few other things we owned.  But the one thing I could never replace, my family, did make it out and for that I am truly thankful.

     After cleaning up the store room, I worked on another ongoing project, the staining of our fence.  It’s a “process” as they say.  Standing out there, on a beautiful day, listening to the birds, I had time to think.  I made a decision today that I’m not going to get angry over “stuff” anymore.   I have my family, a new home, and I’ve found that there’s very little in the world that can’t be replaced with a few clicks on eBay or

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved

(May 17, 2012)

KL-Photo-e1337612787333     There were lots of rough days after our fire. But just as things were getting back to normal, I went out of my way to have another one.

    As I described in a previous post, our two cats, Keebler and Littles, died in the fire. The day after, my brother-in-law found them, one in our bedroom and the other under the guest room bed. He asked me if I wanted to see them but I didn’t.  I was still in a state of shock and I couldn’t do it.  I knew I would’ve broken down and I didn’t want to remember them that way

Littles & Keebler--Nothing to see here.

Littles & Keebler–Nothing to see here.

     Littles and Keebler were sisters. We got them only a few months after moving into the house. Keebler was a mackerel-striped tabby and Littles was all black.

  Littles was originally “Bear” because she looked like a tiny bear cub.  She was the runt of the litter and weighed a mere 8 ounces when we brought her home.  We’d been told she was weened but after a few days, she had not eaten so I purchased some formula and an eye dropper to hand feed her.  Within a short time, she was eating on her own but my brief role as “mom” seemed to make her bond with me. Her tiny size led me to call her “Littles” and the name stuck.

    Littles and Keebs  were great cats. Keebs was pretty mellow and was just content to curl up at the foot of our bed most nights. Littles, in an apparent effort to satisfy her hunter’s instincts adopted the habit of carrying my daughter’s Barbie clothes to the hallway in front of our bedroom and meowing loudly.  When we made sure the Barbie clothes were put up, she graduated to human clothing and small toys.



     They were both great with the kids although it took awhile for them to warm up to each other.  We still laugh about the time our daughter, at about age 3, yelled desperately from her bed one night (with us hearing it over the baby monitor), “THERE’S A KITTY IN MY ROOM!”

     So, when the cats were found in the ruins of our home, I didn’t want to see them and have that be my last memory of them. My brother-in-law told me that they hadn’t died from flames, but apparently from smoke inhalation. He said they looked like they were asleep.  A small comfort there at least. He wrapped them in the remains of the curtains from our guest room.



     My brother-in-law, my boss, and a friend from work buried them at the rear of our backyard near the willow tree I’d planted our first year in the house. They marked the grave with a small American flag I had near our fence.

    At that time, we hadn’t even absorbed what had happened, let alone thought about whether we’d rebuild or move to another home. Less than two months later, after alot of work and help from our family, friends and our insurance adjuster, we moved into our new home. By then, the wreckage of our old home had been demolished and all that remained was a straw-covered bare spot, our driveway, and the remains of our lawn. We owned the lot but would soon be putting a for sale sign on it.

     And then one day, a thought occurred to me…what about Littles and Keebs?  I didn’t know when or if anybody would ever build a home on the lot.  But if they did, would they bulldoze the land and start from scratch?  Even if they didn’t, would the new owner unknowingly dig up our cats one day?

    So I made a decision to move them to our new home.  It sounded perfectly reasonable to me at the time but when I mentioned it to some co-workers, they advised me not to do it.  They seemed to think it was gruesome.

     I agonized over it for a couple of days.  In the end, I felt that I at least owed it to them to give them a final resting spot where they wouldn’t be forgotten or disturbed.

     So, one Saturday morning last August, I got up very early and drove to the lot.  I took a plastic bin with me along with a shovel and some gloves. It was kind of a surreal experience.  Certainly not one’s normal weekend activity.  I hoped none of my neighbors would be outside and ask me what I was doing.

     I got there and got right to it.  I just wanted it to be over.  Luckily, the digging only took a minute and I was able to remove both cats without disturbing the curtains they’d been buried in.  I was afraid that I’d see them…that wasn’t something I was looking forward to. What I hadn’t prepared for was the smell.  I don’t know why, but it just hadn’t occurred to me and it wasn’t good.

     I worked quickly and got them put into the plastic bin.  I filled the hole and quickly drove home where I set about digging a new hole.  I had decided to bury them under a new willow tree that I’d procured the week before.  The ground was rock hard Alabama red clay but luckily I had purchased a pick the day before.

     It took a few hours but I finally had the hole big enough to hold the tree and my cats.  I took a deep breath, opened the bin and laid them side by side at the bottom of the 3 foot deep hole.  I then set about filling the hole.

     Being Alabama, I had to mow the law for a good two months after that.  The first few     times I did the backyard, I became very upset.  A normal reaction I think. To this day, I still wonder if I couldn’t have saved them had I gone back in the house.  I know the smoke was thick by the time I got back to the front door and they weren’t famous for coming when called in the best of times.  I know better but it still bothers me and probably always will.

     As time has passed, my eyes don’t tear up when I walk by the tree.  In October I planted some pansies around their grave and recently placed a small statue of a cat with angel wings between the flowers. I’m glad I chose to move them to our new home.  I miss them but having them here helps.

JoJo & Scooby

JoJo & Scooby

     You may be wondering…Yes, we did get two new kittens. We adopted them in November–Two sisters, JoJo and Scooby.  I know we’re just seeing what we want but many things they do remind us of Keebs and Littles. Sometimes eerily so. We love them and they’ve helped us heal in ways I can’t describe.  And before I close, let me say a heart-felt thanks to Barry, BKB & JTH for what they did for Littles and Keebler the day after the fire. I owe you guys.

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved

(May 12, 2012)

     My nephew (a senior in college) joined the club last weekend when his apartment building caught fire.  Nobody was apparently hurt but his apartment sustained severe smoke and water damage.  It got me thinking this week about what advice I could give him and reminded me of one particular facet of our experience that I think goes near the top of the “Things to Do After a Fire” list.

      The afternoon after our fire, I sat in the front lawn.  I was exhausted, depressed, worried about my kids & wife, and not thinking straight.  My brother-in-law had been there all day salvaging things from the house.  He asked me if I wanted him to empty the refrigerator, and its attached freezer as well as our chest freezer–all of which were full of food.  Like I said, I wasn’t thinking straight and I didn’t want to ask anybody to do anymore than they had already done.  So I said no.  And it wasn’t like I had a plan or anything.  You probably see where this is going.

     About 9 days later, I was at the house after work looking for things to salvage.  A fire scene is already a nasty environment.  So when the seal on your fridge/freezer melts and you let it sit in the 98 degree heat of Alabama in June…well, let’s just say it’s not a good scene.

      I had to do something.  By that time, I knew the house wasn’t going to be demolished anytime soon and I certainly didn’t want to leave my neighbors the gift of rotten food and the associated flies and vermin it would attract.

      I’d like to think I’m not some Miss Priss who’s afraid to get his hands dirty.   But as I stood there pondering my options, I didn’t think loading trash cans full of rotten food and leaving them on the curb would endear me to the neighbors.  Then I remembered…there are professional cleaning companies that tout their ability to make things, shall we say, “like they were before.”

     So I called them up and found out I had been misinformed.  The lady on the phone curtly informed me “we don’t do that.”   I wasn’t expecting that answer and calls to the other companies touting disaster relief in the Yellow Pages got me the same response.

     I slept on it and the next day at work, it bothered me all morning.  I decided to do it myself.  It was a Friday, which meant no trash pick-up til the following Monday morning.  I mentioned it to my buddy J at work, the same guy who was storing most of our salvaged items in his backyard shed.  He offered to help.  I turned him down, and not in that “my mouth says no but my eyes say yes” kinda way.  I really didn’t want him to have to deal with it but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

       I left the office at 4PM and headed to Wal-Mart where I purchased a $3 pair of shorts, a $3 t-shirt, a box of industrial strength contractor grade garbage bags, yellow rubber gloves, a mongo-sized can of Lysol, and a jar of Vicks Vapo Rub.

     You may be wondering about that last one.  Remember that scene in Silence of the Lambs when Jodie Foster has to examine a murder victim and everybody in the room rubs Vicks Vapo Rub under their nostrals to deal with the smell?  Sounded like a good idea to me.

     J met me at the house at five and we worked out our strategy.  It basically boiled down to “DO IT FAST!”  I took the fridge and he worked the freezer.  What we found was just wrong…and I won’t go into gory detail.

     Time kinda stood still there but before we knew it, we were done.  We had filled three of the large garbage bags and stuffed them into my two trashcans that had survived the fire because I kept them out back.  We emptied half the Lysol into the cans hoping to kill some of the smell and maybe keep the flies down.   That probably didn’t work.

     We left the cans in the backyard until Monday morning when J drove over and dragged them to the curb.  I called ahead to warn the environmental services department of my city hoping they would let the garbage men know they should just take the cans.  They told me they wouldn’t do that and sure enough, when I went over after work, the cans were empty.  Man, I felt bad for those guys.

     I doubt anybody who just had a house fire will be surfing the Web looking at blogs.  But if you ever know somebody who does suffer this type of disaster, please let them know that there’s no rotten food fairy who’s going to come and empty the fridge.  If I had listened to my brother-in-law the day after, I’d have saved me and J a really nasty 30 minutes.

Copyright © 2012  All rights reserved

(January 1, 2013)

      Hi there folks. Here’s some thoughts as we start a brand new year.  As I sit here on the couch, ESPN on the TV in the background, the kids off doing something, I’ve been compiling my 2013 “Need To Do” list.  Not so much resolutions as a detailed list of things I need/want to do better, projects I need to start (or finish), and other such things. As I like to stay organized, this list goes in a 1/2 inch three ring binder along with related documents and I plan to use it throughout the year to keep myself and the family on track.

     One of those “Things I Need To Do Better” is work on my two blogs on a regular basis. But to be honest, not working on this blog hasn’t been so much due to laziness or being busy but more of a conscious decision.  Basically, I stopped thinking about the fire on a regular basis. And in reality, that’s a pretty big victory.

     You see, back when I started this, our fire was a pretty much a constant presence in my mind.  I remember asking a friend who’d been through a total loss fire if she ever stopped thinking about it.  At the time, we were less than a week out and a moment didn’t pass without our loss and the hard road ahead weighing on my mind.

     Well, I can happily report that she was right.  You do stop thinking about it. That’s not to say you forget it.  By no means. Just yesterday, I went to get a hole puncher. Nope.  Saw a toy on TV and asked my son, “Don’t you have that?”  Not anymore. “We used to have one” has become an oft-heard phrase around here. But, even my kids now say it without that subtle note of pain or sense of loss that use to make me and my wife cringe.  It’s just a simple fact.  We used to have X, Y, or Z.  Need one? Put it on the shopping list.

     When we put up our Christmas tree this year, we didn’t miss our old ornaments. Last year was kinda rough.  None of that stuff survived the fire.  From the ornament I made in the 1st grade to the “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments we had for our children.  Those things were gone.

     But this time, we were pleasantly surprised at all the new ornaments we’ve gotten since the fire and had forgotten about.  After the tree was up, we realized we might need a bigger tree next year because this one was already full.

     And OK, there was one that I missed–a Hallmark ornament. Nothing special. A little tin hot-air blimp with Santa at the wheel.  I had just always liked it.  My wife and I got it at an after-Christmas sale in 2001.  So I jumped on eBay and 3 minutes later, it was on it’s way to us.  For half of what we paid in 2001!  My point? There’s very little in the way of material goods that can’t be replaced. I know I’ve made that point before, but it’s important if you find yourself missing material things.

     So, where are we, a year and a half out from our fire?  I think I can say that we’ve recovered.  It’s a simple thing to say, but it took a lot of work and not a few tears to get to this point.  That being said, I plan on posting some new thoughts in the near future including probably my most important post to date–The “dreaded” inventory. It’s one that I hope will help people who find themselves staring at a stack of paperwork wondering “how can I do this?”  Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful 2013!

 Copyright © 2013  All rights reserved

(January 1, 2013)

     For some reason, I’m the one who sends out the Christmas cards in our family. Probably makes me a bit of an oddity in the old marriage dynamic category.  Now to be fair, since I have really crappy handwriting, I make my wife actually sign the cards.  But I compile the list, print the labels, stamp them, lick the envelopes, and perhaps most importantly, I pen the annual Christmas Card Letter.

    What’s that you ask?  What’s a “Christmas Card Letter?”  Well, I can’t say I blame you.  They tend to be rarer than Bigfoot sightings nowadays.   I mean, lately, you’re lucky to get a Christmas card at all, let alone one with a note or letter included. I appreciate the thought when I open a Christmas card that’s merely signed “Love, Uncle Joe & Aunt Jane,”  But after that 10 seconds is up, and the card goes on the door (or fridge, or string, etc.) it’s pretty much forgotten.  You know I’m right.

     On the other hand, when there’s a note included, then now I have something to sink my teeth into.  And maybe it’s because I’m not on Facebook, but I actually like hearing from family and friends who live far away.  And maybe it’s narcissistic to assume people want hear what’s going on with us.  But when I grew up, people wrote notes dang it and I’m gonna keep hope alive. So like em or not, if you get a Christmas card from us, it’s gonna have a letter in it.

     So what’s my point?  What does this have to do with recovering from a house fire?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

     As I sat down at the ol’ laptop to pen this year’s missive, I did a little mental checklist about the events I wanted to relate. My daughter’s budding career in children’s theatre, my son’s first season of flag football, and our trip to Destin.  When I got done, it hit me what I had NOT included.  And that was the word “fire.”  It didn’t come up.  And I wondered if people reading the letter would wonder “why didn’t he mention the fire?”

     Well, I didn’t mention it because I have come to the point where I’m not defined by it.  Yes, we survived a house fire.  And by the grace of God, we have our children.  So, to my way of thinking, NOT mentioning the fire was a way of leaving the world of the “victim” and getting back to normal.  I guess sometimes, it’s not what you say, but what you don’t say.

 Copyright © 2013  All rights reserved

(January 9, 2013)

     If I tell you your homeowner’s insurance policy includes $150,000 coverage for the contents of your home, you might assume that if your house burns down, blows away in a tornado, or is flattened by an asteroid…you might assume your insurance company is going to cut you a check for $150,000.  And you would be wrong.

     Of course, I knew that before our fire but I never sat down and read my policy or made any real effort to understand how insurance works. It’s not exactly an interesting topic, it’s kinda depressing to think about, and I figured “I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.”  Well, boy, did we ever come to it.

     With all the stress, exhaustion, anger, sadness, and fear I experienced after our fire, I remember dwelling on the dreaded “Contents Inventory” and thinking, “How in the Hell am I going to do this?”  And before I explain how I answered that question, let me reiterate that our experience was OUR experience.  Your insurance company will likely be different in some subtle or not-so-subtle ways.  The specifics of your disaster will probably be much different than ours.  In other words, your mileage may vary.  But hopefully, if you can take anything from my experience, it’s that there’s a light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel.

     You see, insurance companies don’t just cut checks for 150 grand.  You have to, in effect, “prove” what  you had and submit that list in writing.  It’s called a “Contents Inventory Claim Form” and for me, it was pretty brutal.

      I remember sitting in our temporary hotel room (and later apartment) thinking “why can’t they just walk through the wreckage, see what we had, and pay me the amount for which we were covered?”  But you know what they say about “wishing in one hand…”

     The bottom line is that if you want to be paid for your claim, you’re going to have to do the inventory forms.  No amount of wishing, whining, or complaining will change that. It’s not fun but it IS the number one thing you can do to get you and your family back on your feet. In my upcoming posts, I’ll describe what I did as well as how and why I did it.

 Copyright © 2013  All rights reserved

(March 13, 2013)

     We had the notion that “almost nothing isn’t replaceable” proven to us recently.  As I’ve said before, I try not to dwell on the material things we lost in the fire. It’s hard sometimes, but I feel like I’ve managed it well.  That being said, it is nice to get something back now and then.


     The picture to the left is of a hand-made ceramic steamer.  It was made by the late Arch Pike.  Back in 1991, when my wife and I were married, my uncle gave us the steamer as a wedding gift.  It actually started us down the road to a small collection of pottery that we built up over the years.   It turned out that my uncle was friends with Mr. Pike and we even met him several times at a local art festival.  We always mentioned receiving his piece as a wedding gift and how much we loved it.  And he always seemed pleased to see us.

    Well, that particular piece of pottery once sat on top of a seven foot tall bookcase in our old living room.  When the fire was over, there wasn’t much left of it.  I remember seeing it and not even wanting to mess with it.  It was pretty obviously beyond salvage.

      Fast forward to last Saturday.  As my wife, kids, and I were killing time before seeing a movie, we stopped by the local antique mall to browse.  I managed to score a nice book for my re-growing library and my daughter found a Bitty Baby doll to replace the one she lost.  As I was heading towards the check-out desk, I happened to glance at a particular shelf and there it was…an Arch Pike ceramic steamer about as close to the original as you can get.  I did a double take and carefully pulled the piece off the shelf.  I remember thinking it was probably by someone else and just looked like one of Arch’s.  But nope, it’s an original.  And like I said, it is a dead ringer.  The cherry on top was the price. The tag said $30 which for me, was a great deal.  I wondered later how much I would’ve paid for it and never could really answer myself.

     It now sits on the china cabinet in our dining room.  Seeing it there is kinda weird…in a good way. Is it the original gift my uncle gave us 22 years ago?  No.  But it feels like it and that’s good enough for me.

 Copyright © 2013  All rights reserved

(March 26, 2013)

Here are a couple of fire-related posts from my other blog (the fun one),

I guess I just have to laugh at stuff or else I’d cry.

Second Guessing Myself, Part 1

Second Guessing Myself, Part 2

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