“All Hands on Deck” is the continuing story of the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read earlier posts in the series, click on the links at the bottom of this post.
After the holidays, we are thoroughly indoctrinated into the process of building a custom home. We have a round of meetings with the builder and although we selected one of his standard plans, the in-house architect made a few adjustments to meet our specific needs. Charlie is handicapped. He had polio as a child and did not walk from the time he was 2-years-old until he was 12. Yes, he learned to walk before 2 years of age and through a twist of fate, caught polio which rendered him paralyzed. Because of the efforts of his parents and his aunt plus a series of 10 operations as a child, he learned to walk again at 12.
However, as he has aged, he has lost more and more mobility in his legs. He was still walking in 2008, but used a cane full-time. With a farsighted view of his possible future, we had all hallways and doors increased to handicap access plus had handicap bars installed in two bathrooms. And, one of the showers was made with no lip so that if necessary, we can wheel a wheelchair into it with no problem. All of our various adjustments to the plans were accommodated and then “engineering” was brought into the mix. We met at our home building site several times with the engineer, so that we could “site” our new house. Since we own 8 acres, we decided not to rebuild our house on the exact location of our old house. There were three reasons for this decision:
1. Our old house was very near our property line, so our proximity to our one and only neighbor was closer than necessary and we had an “easement” across his property in order to enter our property. Moving our new house to another part of our property would eliminate this “easement” situation.
2. Our old house was a fair distance from our well; in fact, several acres away from our well! Moving our house closer to our well seemed like the prudent thing to do.
3. And, we needed “closure” on our old house. We loved that old house; we still do. Now we have an area on our property that is our mourning site.
Also, we had a series of meeting with the on-staff designer/decorator. While she really is a designer/decorator, her function as a member of the team was to lead you through the process of picking house colors, both exterior and interior. So, our first meeting with her was to choose our exterior stucco, roofing tile, stonework, trim, etc. Our old house was white and whenever we watered plants that were located right next to the house, the water and dirt would splash up on the stucco leaving the stucco stained and dirty. In selecting a color for our new house, it made sense to me that we choose a color as close to dirt as possible. I think I surprised her when I said I wanted a dirt-colored house!
Over the next several months, as building progresses, we will meet with her several more times to choose cabinets, countertops, flooring, lighting, paint, etc. – an endless array of possibilities! Again, I choose dirt-colored tile for the tiles in the house. About 50% of our flooring is tile and tracking dirt into the house is a real possibility when you live on 8 acres of mostly dirt! And, Charlie and I will grow to appreciate this designer’s talent, patience, gentleness and expertise as she leads us through this potential decorating minefield. Again, we are grateful that we picked this builder with his knowledgeable team of experts, who helped to make an overwhelming process manageable.
Spring 2008 arrives commanding our valley back to life. Our surrounding hills and mountains are a bright emerald green from the rains of winter, bringing back pleasant memories of my trip to Ireland in late August and early September 2007, just before the fires. Though the river bottom is covered in scorched trees, they stand in stark relief to the vast bright green of new growth, reminding me that Mother Earth does, indeed, have a plan.
We break ground on April 2, 2008 – a big day for us because our contract with this builder is a nine-month contract. He has assured us that he can build our house and we will move into it in nine months or less. They have everything scheduled, all the permits and paperwork are in order, all the subs are lined up and before we know it, we are walking on the slab of our new home!
Also during this time, one of my dear girlfriends, Vickie, throws me a surprise party and many of my girlfriends shower me with lovely gifts! I thought I was just going to a luncheon at her home with several of our mutual friends and when I arrive, find out it is all about me! I collected tea cups and many were destroyed in the fire. Several girlfriends gifted me with both brand new tea cups and family heirlooms to start my new collection! Others gifted me with new household items to help stock our new home! I’m so very grateful to all of my thoughtful friends!
Throughout this time, I continue to work on our Personal Property inventory list required by our insurance carrier to settle this portion of our claim. I use the visualization technique that the on-site adjuster suggested and I find this effective and set up different sheets in my Excel workbook for every room in our house. When I get stalled on a room because I know I know something, but it just isn’t coming to me, I move on to another room. This back-and-forth routine would be my standard operating procedure throughout the process of building this workbook. Thank goodness for the internet, which provides us with a wealth of tools to establish the value of belongings we had.
I find this process cathartic and helpful to me in my grieving process – I’m challenged to remember each nook and cranny of our old home, treasure the memory, put it on the Excel spreadsheet and move on. I breakdown multiple times throughout this process and grieve for things we no longer have – the items with mostly sentimental value as opposed to monetary worth. Inherited pieces, my father’s artwork, scrapbooks and photo albums not recovered by the firefighters and things purchased together in our married life from trips taken or for special occasions. But, I remind myself over-and-over-and-over again that they are only “things” and we have each other and we have Coco.
I work diligently on this workbook and after nine months and 165 Excel pages, I declare to Charlie that we are done.kaput.finished; we submit this list to our insurance carrier in August 2008. While I know that I in no way got everything on this list “down to the last toothpick” as suggested by the adjuster, I know that I made a valiant effort to not leave any money on the table!
We have few “hiccups” in the building process. I am totally convinced that’s because Charlie was on-site every single day, prodding the crew along and answering any questions that pop up along the way and making on-site decisions. The most major “hiccup” occurred after the plumbing was installed. Overnight, someone entered our property and attempted to steal the copper pipes. However, they didn’t shut the water off first! So, when they made the first cut on the pipe, the pipe exploded because it was under pressure (another stupid thief story for the record books). This caused the thieves to run away and not take the copper pipe, but it flooded our entire new house!
The roofers arrived to discover this unfolding drama and shut off the water. Charlie and the rest of crew showed up and the builder called the police, who arrived on-site to take a report. The builder installed sensor lighting on the property and the very next day, moved a trailer onto our site with one of his employees, who lived on-site through the duration of the rest of the build. While this was a major inconvenience and required hours of clean-up and repairs made by the plumbing sub-contractor, it does not deter our builder from keeping to the schedule.
Charlie and I spend every weekend at some store. We had to pick out cabinetry, countertops, flooring (tile, wood and carpet), interior stone for fireplaces, paint and trim colors, etc. While the in-house designer/decorator helped us with all of these choices, we met her at various stores throughout the process to make decisions. This was fun for me, because I love the decorating process. I’m sure it was a chore for Charlie, but he went to every single meeting and store and helped in the decision-making process.
In addition, we started the process of furnishing our new home. While we had the condo furniture, it wasn’t going to be enough because our new house is three times larger than the condo! Plus, we had to shop for all of the appliances that the builder didn’t include with our home. The economy had slowed to a screeching stop and furniture stores were taking a hit. While they definitely wanted our business, delivery became an issue. Some manufacturers weren’t manufacturing unless they had a certain size order. So, if we wanted a certain item and it wasn’t “in stock”, we would order it and an estimated delivery date given. One furniture item took nine months to deliver!
Also, I had never decorated a house from scratch, except of course, the condo. So, I was concerned that I would either purchase furniture that was too large for the space or purchase furniture that was too small for the space. I devised a way to try and nip that possibility in the bud. I purchased plastic tablecloths ($2.99 at the party supply store) and cut and taped them into furniture sizes based on measurements provided to me by the furniture stores. Then I would lay them around our concrete floors moving around them to make sure everything fit before ordering the furniture. This stroke of genius seemed to work and every single piece of furniture ordered, fit exactly in its place!
December 12th, the day of final inspection arrives. We’ve given our landlord notice, packed up the belongings in our condo and hired movers.
And, we flunk the inspection!
The plumber had installed natural gas (LNG) water heaters instead of propane. For a brief moment, we thought we would have trouble with the move-in date because we were ready to go, the movers were ready to go (and booked on other days!) and we had scheduled this move for a Friday, my day off! Any deviation to that date spelled disaster for me, because I had no more vacation or sick leave left for the year! But, our builder comes to the rescue, gets the plumber back out to swap the heaters for the correct ones, is able to convince the building inspector to come back out and we pass inspection! I’m at work while all this drama is unfolding, so Charlie does the final walk-through with our builder.
As much as possible, we had coordinated the furniture delivery with our move-in date. So, on Friday the 14th, I stayed behind at the condo to supervise the movers and Charlie went to our new home to accept delivery. It was a crazy, hectic, exciting weekend, but everything went smoothly considering the logistics. It was amazing how much stuff we collected during our 13 months in the condo and how much I had to pack and unpack! One of my girlfriend’s, Debra, and her daughter came over the next day to help us unpack and try and organize our new home. Without their help, I’m sure we would not have accomplished as much as we did.
So, while we worked like dogs over that long weekend, we were finally home.
Siting our new house on our property. This is the view facing north. The front of our new house faces north and I look outside my home office window everyday and see these beautiful mountains!
Siting our property – this is the view facing southwest. The back of our new house faces south.
Placing the “diaper” – that’s what Charlie called it. It’s a special membrane placed under the foundation of our home that is supposed to help should an earthquake occur. We had several new “building ordinance” regulations to comply with in building this new home and this “diaper” was one of them.
A view of our beautiful green mountains. They are only green for a couple of months a year – during our “rainy” season!
Building continues in spite of stormy skies.
The roofing tiles arrive and are loaded on the roof. They’ll sit there for many weeks to “settle” the house before the roofing crew comes back and installs them.
Me on the right showing my sister, Gail, on the left how the furniture will fit in the new space. Our dad is on the right. This is before I got the bright idea of using plastic disposable tablecloths to cut out furniture patterns. There were just pieces of construction paper left by the construction crew and I just tore them up and laid them in place!
My sister, Gail, my mom, Charlie all sitting on the fireplace hearth. I’m talking to my dad on the right (not only is he a fabulous artist, but he has a degree in architecture).
Tile work being laid in the hallway. The tile mason in the distance.
Our tenant farmer’s corn field and our new water tank on the right. This would be the last year of corn grown on our land. Our new insurance company does not allow farming activities.
An inside view of the master bedroom windows and our south-facing view on our property.
The crew working on our incredibly long driveway. Access to our property is about 500 feet from the road, so our driveway is about 600 feet total.
The twists and turns of our driveway. The crew didn’t want it to be a “straight shot” onto our property, plus it followed the property line. I have to agree – now landscaped with beautiful trees and flowers, this driveway brings me great joy everyday.
All photos taken by Charlie. He took hundreds and hundreds of photos and I’ve selected these few to be representative of the building process.
The series continues tomorrow with Chapter 14 – “In the Lap of Luxury”
Until Next Time,
(other posts in the fire series)
Prologue – Any Way the Wind Blows
Chapter One – The Valley That Time Forgot
Chapter Two – Eye of the Storm
Chapter Three – In the Blink of an Eye
Chapter Three.One – Too Far From Home (Tiffany’s story)
Chapter Four – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter Five – In a Blue Funk
Chapter Six – Back to Square One
Chapter Seven – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Chapter Eight – Not Me, Why Me, Who Me, It’s Me
Chapter Nine – The Whole Kit and Caboodle
Chapter Ten – Feathering the Nest
Chapter Eleven – The Blind Leading the Blind
Chapter Twelve – Apple Pie Order