One last house errand - I think...

In a bid to economize on our home re-build, we've been salvaging the pavers from our old patio (at least the ones we can get to). We were assisted by some friends who came away with a pile of bricks from the other side of our house, to be re-used in one of their projects. And we thought that was it - until our next-door neighbour brought over some lumber to cover up her septic tanks so they won't overflow in the winter rains.

We had talked about this, but in the intervening weeks it completely slipped our minds. Not surprising, since there is a plethora of things we are in the midst of in the re-build process. If you've never been through anything like this, let me just say that although you may imagine that it is difficult and complicated, it's likely a lot more complicated than you imagine.

So we've got to go back once more to cover our septic tanks, as well as our neighbours' on the other side. Hopefully that will be the last trip until the phase II cleanup; we want one of us there, to make sure that they don't take out the stuff we want to stay put. Then we will need to put barley straw down to reduce erosion, then have some trees cut down. I've been told that once the land is cleared, it becomes easier to go back. The first two times we did, I felt out-of-sorts, but not depressed. The third trip was bad. Fourth and fifth were easier because we were with friends. But still, I have good days and bad days, which is to be expected.

Pandemic dreams

Apparently, a lot of folks are dreaming more lately. Or rather, are dreaming more vividly and remembering those dreams. A number of studies have been done that point the culprit, rightly so, to our current pandemic and anxieties relating to it. Worries that occur in their waking lives carry over into their dreams, although apparently, a percentage of people are having happy dreams - for example, in which they stumble upon the cure.

Oddly enough, although I often dream vividly, I haven't experienced this effect. I did have a series of unusually vivid alternate history dreams at the very beginning of the shelter-in-place in March, but am not convinced COVID was the cause of them, since it hadn't really sunk in yet.

I am, however, flabbergasted that I haven't experienced this phenomenon, particularly as this pandemic situation has been augmented by the fact that my house and possessions have recently been reduced to a pile of ash. But, other than in the beginning when I didn't know whether or not my house was destroyed (and slept very little), my dream proclivities haven't really changed. Perhaps my subconscious recognizes that I'm going through enough right now.

But about everyone else: the one thing that has not been mentioned as a cause is melatonin. I think it's a safe bet that people aren't sleeping as well as they used to. And that many of them may have turned to melatonin to help them get a better quality of sleep. But if they've never taken it, they may not know that too much will cause very vivid, often unpleasant dreams. The best dosage is very small.

So if you're reading this, are experiencing dreams that are more vivid than usual and they correspond with your taking melatonin, consider cutting the dosage. As in, if you're taking more than 1mg, cut those pills in half or even quarters.


Open floor plan? Oh, HELL no!

Jack and I met with our contractor last week to discuss the overall strategy for building our house. He gave us some good tips for what to do between now and when the actual building will occur, which would not take place for several months.

He took a look at our floor plan and the first words out of his mouth were, "that wall between the kitchen and living room has to go." Those were fighting words, as far as I was concerned, so the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh, HELL no!" He said that the open plan was something a lot of his customers asked him to do. I explained that we were designing the house to accommodate how WE lived in the house, not his other customers. And that eliminating that wall also eliminated almost half of the upper cabinet space. And that the kitchen already was open on one end. And that more and more people were regretting those open kitchens and having walls put back or a working kitchen behind the "show" kitchen (if, unlike us, they have room for that sort of thing).

The thing is, the open plan concept is one of those things that I equate to buying a cute party dress. You see this dress and try it on and it looks great. And you imagine going to a party where you'll get to wear this dress. Except that you never end up wearing it because pretty much all of the parties you go to are casual. The dress conjures up a life that isn't really yours.

The open plan is for people who imagine a life where they are the perfect host, able to converse with their guests with no walls between them, while they sit at the dining room table or on the couch and the host prepares the perfect appetizers to go with that amusing new cocktail they've discovered. But really - how often are you going to actually do that? The open plan only pays off if you entertain most days of the week. And you don't mind people seeing the dirty dishes, pots and pans. Most of the time, an open plan means that you are deluged with your kids' video game noises while you are trying to concentrate on making dinner. Or opening up all of the windows so the cooking smells don't permeate your upholstery. Or having to turn up the TV or take that call in another room because the dishwasher is running. Most days, the open plan will be an irritant.

I will very likely be having this same discussion with the architect/designer. But I will not budge on this. Like low-slung pants, the open plan is a trend that shouldn't be foisted on everyone, particularly me.


A checklist - and vultures

Jack was able to talk with an engineer in Scotts Valley who helped us come up with this handy list for what needs to be done before you can start building your house.

1.) Toxic Cleanup: Phase 1(assessment), Phase 2 (removal). Environmental Health Assessment (provided by the county)
2.) Septic Inspection and Approval Report: states that your systems complies with current requirements (provided by a certified septic company)
3.) Approved Water Source Report: notes where your water is coming from and draining to (provided by SLV Water and SC Co. Dept of Public Works for drainage?)
4.) Geotechnical/Soils Report: will determine what type of foundation is required for your lot (provided by a licensed geotechnical engineer)
5.) Property Lines Assessment: determines where the corners of your lot actually are (provided by a licensed surveyor?)
6.) Architectural and Engineering Drawings: included in this package should be:
-Cover Sheet with Index
-Structurally-approved drawings (approval by a certified structural engineer)
-Proof of adherence to WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) codes for any structures in an
SRA (State Responsibility Area) zones, which doesn't really apply to us.
-Site Plan with all relevant items shown (water lines in and out, septic system,
foundation structures, driveway or road access, etc.)
-Recycling information through Cal-Green: requires covered projects to recycle and/or
salvage for reuse a minimum 65% of the nonhazardous construction and demolition waste
or meet a local construction and demolition waste management ordinance, whichever is
more stringent.
-Document noting compliance with California fire-sprinkler requirements (all new-build
structures require indoor sprinklers)
-Cooper-Clark Landslide Data (this will determine the type of foundation needed)
-Hydrogroup Data for your particular lot (this might be part of the soils report?)

So... a lot of things still to get done. Since no building will be possible over the winter, a lot of this will occur then.

And, as expected, we have been importuned by many people who would like nothing more than to con people out of their insurance money and are attempting to take advantage of people who are overwhelmed and confused and still adjusting to losing everything they own. One attempt was a rather lurid book called Gone in 20 Minutes, but it was really just a thinly-disguised advertisement for private adjusters; it was full of inflammatory statements and tales of woe about fictitious people who didn't hire a private adjuster and met with disaster. I'm sure there are people who buy this bill of goods, but I'm not one of them.

Every day a new adventure

So I learned that insurance companies estimate local price per square foot to rebuild at $280. I'm not sure where they got that figure. No one is quoting below $350. So we not only deal with the trauma of having our house and all earthly possessions destroyed, but must also deal with having less of a house afterward, unless we can come up with an additional $100k. So... this means that we will be adjusting our plans and even may be doing quite a bit of this ourselves; fortunately, we're handy.

One thing this experience has taught me a lesson in choosing my possessions. I would sometimes see something in a magazine, on TV or whatever that I thought was amazing. And I'd look for it and after a great deal of searching, would find it. Oftentimes, there was only one or maybe two places to find it, but I'd buy it and then not use it because I didn't want to break it. It almost felt like my possessions owned me, rather than the other way around. So from now on, that changes. I may have a few unique and special items, but 99.99999% of my possessions moving forward will be easily-replaceable. Things I wouldn't be so worried about breaking. And there will be a lot fewer of them.

More salvage

Last weekend, Jack and I did one more salvage run. On our first trip, it was oppressively hot, even during the early hour we attempted this; as a result, we didn't do anything particularly strenuous. During this trip, I wanted to venture down to the ravine behind our house to see if anything may have dropped off, which is a real challenge, even under ideal conditions.

I had borrowed a fighting stick to use as a walking stick, which ended up being more of a liability, particularly when venturing downwards. When I was about halfway down, it slipped from my hands. I watched it bounce and slide its way down the ravine, hoping that it would finally stop so that I would not have to hike so far down to get it. I was not so lucky - it traveled quite a ways. Eventually, I retrieved it and made my annoyed way up the almost vertical slope to the back of our house. One thing that I discovered was that the fire had actually consumed that area and that was where the fire had actually come from, rather than from the east side.

I was happy to see that the steps I had built from the back of the house were mostly unscathed, so the last part of my journey up to the house was easier. Most of what had fallen and burned were our books. We had hundreds, reduced to ash and the occasional charred page. I stepped onto the concrete apron behind and below the back of our foundation and ventured over to what used to be our bedroom; I poked around with the stick (the one time it was useful...) to see what I could find. I was able to retrieve two of Jack's historic pistols: a double-barreled flintlock and a single-action colt revolver. Both were charred beyond repair. I wasn't able to find anything else, so I clambered back up to the house.

My other errand was to see if I could salvage the family silver. I had been given the family silver, which was from Birks, the Canadian equivalent of Tiffany and Co. Which meant that it was sterling silver, not silver plate. I discovered that the silver had melted and amalgamated with the other materials and as such was not salvageable. But we did salvage the broken bits of our considerable Talavera pottery collection; Jack intends to create mosaic tables from them.

For the most part, I've accepted that my home and belongings are gone. But every once in a while, a random thought about what I miss will pop up in my head. For example, yesterday I did get rather upset that my Ariat boots, riding pants and helmet were gone. The pants and helmet can be replaced, but the year I bought those boots was one of the last good years for Ariats, in terms of quality. Those were some damn good boots. So... no dressage for a while.

Also, I did learn something this week about the debris disposal. I heard conflicting reports and finally got a straight answer. Basically, a good insurance policy will have a separate fund to cover debris removal. If the county removes the debris, the money in that fund will become the deductible. So of the removal costs $30,000 and you have $15,000 in your debris insurance fund, the county will charge you $15,000. You can hire a contractor to do this, but this may be problematic, depending on how your insurance policy works. If the insurer cuts you a check for the entire debris removal amount and you're somehow able to find someone to do it for less than that amount, that can leave you with some extra money to put toward your building costs. But if it goes over, you will need to cough up that extra money. Also, having the county do this makes getting the building permits easier. But check both options, if you ever find yourself in such a quandary.


Searching for treasure

Jack and I drove up to the remains of our house yesterday, to see if there was anything left worth salvaging. When we turned off and headed through our neighbourhood, it looked remarkably normal - until we got to our block. Then, the scene transformed into something more surreal and apocalyptic. Most of the houses on the right made it through unscathed. The ones on the left and at the end did not.

Fortunately, the road clean-up was finished the previous afternoon; prior to this, we wouldn't have been able to get anywhere near our place. We drove up to our house, put on our Tyvek suits, grabbed our shovels and started looking for anything that hadn't been destroyed. One thing we noticed was that our siding, which was fire-proof, did not burn. However, because the fire had attacked through the roof, the house burned from the inside-out. And the siding became brittle and broke up. But at least it didn't burn.

Very little was salvageable: some pottery (including a couple of pieces found in our kitchen, which was miraculous), our two iron cannons (although they will never be able to be used again) and some metal pieces - in particular, a couple of sword hilts. Everything else was either ash or twisted up, with the exception of my tomato cages and our fire pit, which came out unscathed. We also noted that most, if not all, of the trees surrounding our place had been scorched. Some may be salvageable, but I'm guessing most will be cut down.

I had already gone through the myriad of emotions attendant upon learning that my house was no more, so this trip was mostly about salvage. And taking photos. I took some of my neighbours' places as well, since I knew that a couple of them wouldn't have been able to make it up there. We're already discussing our re-building plans. It's going to be a long slog for all of us, so neighbourly unity and assistance will go a long way toward making this more bearable.


Oddly enough...

... the toughest thing I'm dealing with right now is having to list all of our possessions that were inside the house (and in the outbuildings, the attic and garage). It's a difficult enough task when you're still living in your house. Imagine what it is like after you've been away for a couple of weeks.

I have weekly meetings with my claims rep. We're covering one room per week, the first one being the master bedroom. I actually spent a great deal of time there, due to the fact that it doubled as my office. So you'd think that it would be fairly easy to list things I saw daily - except you'd be wrong. For example, with few exceptions, I cannot for the life of me remember what was in my nightstand. And I'm sure half of the stuff stored under the bed won't be listed.

So take this as a cautionary tale. Start a list of everything you have and review it annually. If anything were to happen to your house, you will be SO happy you did this.


I spoke too soon...

In my previous post, I mentioned that our various service providers had been great about canceling our services. However, there was one exception - the one service that was frankly, the least used: Vonage.

The management must have worked at AOL previously, because the reps used the same script and tactics; in particular, to make it as difficult as possible to leave. Many years ago, when discontinuing AOL, the rep kept me on the phone for over half an hour, trying to talk me into staying, offering other programs, etc. I told him repeatedly that what I wanted was to discontinue using AOL. Full Stop. Yet he kept yammering on. When I had reached the limits of my patience, I told him that if he did not comply, my next call would be to my credit card company, to report my card had been stolen. And that I was willing to go through that inconvenience to ensure that AOL did not get any more of my money. He finally realised that I was actually serious and cancelled my account.

I went through a very similar call with Vonage. The rep used the same playbook, but with an additional twist. Before she would even begin processing the cancellation, I had to answer a series of questions. My guess is they do this so that people will give up and say, "forget it - I'll keep your damn service!" But I persisted. Then, she started with the second tactic, going over and over with alternates to cancelling. After I had told her that my house had burned down and I would not be back to it for at least a year, she suggested that I do a six-month suspension of service. I repeated what I had told her earlier ("did you not hear me say at least one year?...") and insisted on the cancellation. I eventually had to tell her the same thing I told the AOL rep. One way or the other, they were not going to get one more dime from me. At that point, she finally processed my cancellation, but did so very slowly.

I've since sent Vonage corporate a strongly-worded email about this, but it's doubtful they will change their tactics. So a word to the wise, in the off-chance you are thinking of using Vonage.


First things first

Before I knew that my house was no more, I started the insurance claim. There are also other agencies to contact (e.g. FEMA), but I cannot do that until CALFire has officially marked my house as having burned down.

The next step was to discontinue all services: electrical, Internet, water, phone, garbage, etc. One thing about having your house burn down is that these folks don't quibble with you about fees and such (sorry about those cable boxes...)

The next thing I did was ask around. Social media has been a marvelous place to get in touch with folks who have been through this or know someone who has. I've gotten in touch with a few people who have been through this before, which will be immensely helpful. As I get tips from them, I will post them here.