Damage Report

From the first moments of racing through the house to make the water stop overflowing, to the heart-dropping-to-the-pit-of-your-stomach call with the insurance company, to the search for a remediation company that could come over right away to start drying things out, to updating a husband on his way home from an appointment, the discovery and reporting of potential damage to the house felt like a continuous loop.

The two weeks following the event did little to dispel that sense. As we closed the doors behind the cleanup crew that left our house in the very early hours of the next morning, we began a first step in recovery: dry out. This meant regular visits to measure moisture in the walls, move around dehumidifiers and vents, and surgically remove more parts of the house to facilitate a faster drying process. We also had a couple visits from our insurance representative, who helped outline what would need to happen to bring us back to roughly 7:30 a.m. on August 22.

Before those details, a quick blessings count: what wasn’t damaged.

On the first floor the living room, dining room, first floor bathroom, front foyer and much of the hallway were unharmed. On the second floor the bedrooms, master bath, hallway and hall closet were dry. More of the house was livable than not. We were extremely fortunate that we could continue inhabiting our home. The thought of relocating to a temporary place while keeping pace with life as usual and pushing recovery and restoration along was overwhelming to say the least.

Damaged areas, though, would still shift around life for a little while.

Laundry room: our ground zero, the floor was removed down to subfloor. Baseboard was taken up and much of the movable contents were relocated to the upstairs hallway. The washer and dryer, while technically still operable, would be discarded for newer models. #trustissues

The bathroom that shares a wall with the laundry room showed no visible damage. The remediation team did remove baseboards and punched a few holes along the base of the wall to promote airflow and faster drying. Repairs would be needed.

The rear foyer was a goner. There was little left of the original space. Miraculously, the closet where off-season coats, light bulbs, grilling supplies, bike helmets, etc. were stored stayed dry. Much of the personal items that got wet were built to get wet – rain boots, wind breakers, sun glasses. They could dry out.

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You can still see the outline of the old flooring’s herringbone pattern in the subfloor.

In the hallway leading from the rear foyer to the rest of the house, carpeting was soaked for about a foot and a half into the hallway. No wet ceiling, no wet walls that we could immediately see, but measurements showed lingering dampness between walls so portions were removed to help speed drying.

From this tiny corner spread some of the most significant to-dos. The wallpaper in the hallway runs continuously from the first floor, up the open stairway to the second floor, and up again to the attic door. “Holy crap,” is what our insurance representative uttered as he followed the wallpaper up…and up…and up. It would all have to go. The 2 square feet of soaked carpet was part of a larger piece that ran continuously through the hallway and living room. All to be replaced.

The kitchen was more like the walking wounded. Wet in some spots, dry in others, the remediation team took a much more conservative approach to removals. The ceiling, part of the wall, those were the first opened up. After a couple more days, when moisture levels in the wall cavities were still too high, a bank of cabinetry and pantry units were removed. Putting everything back together as it was is the order here – but complicated a bit by some damages to a pantry face frame that will need to be repaired or replaced.

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The kitchen ceiling opened up answers to some longstanding questions…such as why we couldn’t fasten the lighting track under that old steel beam we never knew was there.

The next challenge was finding a contractor we could not only entrust with this work, but could also start before the new year began.

Prologue

“Mommy, it’s raining in the house!”

Six words, delivered with a mixture of “that’s not normal around here,” and “is this really cool or really scary? I can’t tell just yet,” perfectly framed what would become the next months of home life.

Swinging the door open that summery Monday afternoon first revealed a wet floor in the rear foyer.

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Looking up to try and discern how the floor got wet revealed the light fixture, overflowing with water and creating a steady sprinkle over the room.

It was coming from upstairs. The laundry room is upstairs. Darting through the raindrops to dash through the house, my mind registered the fact that the kitchen looked unusually wet, too.

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The sound from the washing machine compelled me to keep running, up to find an overflowing machine that hadn’t stopped calling for water to wash two princess costumes. For 9 hours.

1,300 gallons is a lot of water.

Enough to make splashable puddles in the middle of your kitchen’s work triangle.

Enough to forget all about the CSA box you half-dropped, half-threw into the living room because things didn’t look like they were wet in there.

Enough to make you grab the tiny hand of the astute observer who pointed out all that rain to begin with and suggest we go outside to enjoy the beautiful weather while mommy makes a few calls.

The next 12 hours were a bleary-eyed blur of phone calls. Takeout meals. Pushing bedtime back to minimize the chances a child would wake up frightened by the noise of the industrial blowers and dehumidifiers beginning what would become a two-week effort to dry out the three levels of water damage wrought on that day.

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In the first week a collection of walls, ceilings and floors were carefully cut and carried out of the house. Cabinets were removed and set aside. Baseboards, window trim stacked neatly in a corner. There was the constant din of fans that could be arranged so that a certain writer could stand in the middle and look a lot like one of Beyonce’s backup dancers flirting with her wind machines.

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Those fans warmed the house and the breaker box, creating a carefully-choreographed light and power dance to use a coffee maker or turn on the lights. We shrank our domestic footprint, moving essential appliances out of the kitchen to create a makeshift food prep area in the dining room, pulling out the stockpiled paper plates and plastic flatware.

The front and rear foyers merged to create a mountain range of coats and grocery totes that seemed to float everywhere.

We visited the local laundromat, a place our son came to identify as “peaceful.” Seriously. He even told his teacher one day how he got a ton of reading done at the Laundromat the night before.

The litterbox was moved into the master bath, as the cat refused to leave the only really quiet and dry room in the house. That, right there, was perhaps the greatest hardship of the first two weeks. Until you share a bathroom with a cat, you will not understand.

After two weeks the plastic drape was torn away, fans and dehumidifiers loaded into the van, and a final sense of “next” settled in with the newfound silence.

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Some silence was grief. No words that could accurately describe the dread, relief, anguish, self-blame, anticipation of some suspicious dripping sound that could start the whole damn thing over again. Some silence was just quiet.

Quiet it was, for a few more weeks, until contractors made their visits, wrote estimates, and offered up their bids. Then the noise started: an internal noise that grew louder and louder as we struggled to feel sure of what to do next; how to trust a situation that was a completely new experience, with seemingly zero margin for error.

Much like a person plunged into sudden darkness, afraid to misstep in the suffocating black, our eyes have adjusted. Our minds have cleared. And now, our way forward is beginning.

My Love Affair with Salads in a Jar

It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been loving salads in a jar.

The premise is pretty simple: take a jar big enough to hold the size of salad you like to eat, and layer in all the ingredients, starting with the wettest ingredients at the bottom and ending with the lettuce as the top layer.

The beauty of this idea? You can make your salads a week ahead of time (time-saver!), and the crispy parts stay crisp. The flavors sometimes blend in wonderful ways. And the lunches you prepare are full of the good things you know you should be eating anyway.

I’ve got a handy little tool in the kitchen that helps pull air out of the jars and seal in the freshness…it works with a food vacuum sealer machine. But I’ve done salads both ways, and they always turn out great!

There’s really no limit to what kinds of salads you can put in a jar: I’ve done Caesar, Nicoise, Garden, Southwestern Chicken, Chef, Cobb, Summer Berry…you get the idea.

This week, I tried out a group of recipes to deliver a variety of flavors while also encouraging us to eat lots of veggies and protein. One was a more formal salad recipe that I adapted slightly for jars, and the others were made up based on what we like to eat. Here they are…

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Left: Cafe Brenda salad. Middle: Chicken Mediterranean Salad. Right: Steak and Onion Salad

Café Brenda Salad

(Serves 8)

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Spicy Nuts (see recipe below)
  • Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Combine lettuce, apples, spicy nuts, and cheese in a large bowl. Toss with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette. (Add a little amount of salad dressing at a time – a little goes a long way!)

Spicy Nuts

  • 3 cups pecans
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet, and toast in a preheated 350 often for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crunchy. (Rely on your nose.) The nuts will begin to smell nutty and toasty.

Melt the butter. Turn the nuts into a large bowl and toss with the butter and remaining ingredients until the nuts are coated. (If you don’t like a lot of spice, sprinkle in the spices a little at a time to taste.) Spread coated nuts out on the cookie sheet to let them dry. Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to assemble the salad.

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coarse mustard
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Put all ingredients, except oil, into a blender. Blend on high, then pour oil in a slow, steady stream, until the mixture is thick and emulsified. Pour into a mason jar and store in the refrigerator.

 Adaptation for Serving in a Jar

I scaled back the quantities by 50% on both the nuts and the dressing. That gave me enough for approximately 4 jars. Then I layered the dressing, apples, nuts, cheese and lettuce.

 

Chicken Mediterranean Salad in a Jar

  • Balsamic vinaigrette dressing of your choice
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, chopped
  • 1 8-oz. jar roasted red peppers
  • 1 5-oz. container feta cheese crumbles
  • 12 ounces chicken, cooked and shredded into bite-size pieces
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 wide-mouth quart jars with lids and rings

Start by measuring 2 tablespoons of dressing into each jar. Moving from “wet” to “dry” ingredients, divide tomatoes, then red peppers, then cucumbers, then feta on top of the dressing. Place chicken on top of vegetable layer, then fill the remaining space of the jar with as much lettuce as you can fill in.

 

Steak and Onion Salad in a Jar

  • Red wine vinaigrette dressing of your choice
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • leftover steak or deli-sliced roast beef, cut into bite-size pieces
  • blue cheese crumbles
  • baby arugula, red leaf lettuce, or other lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 wide-mouth quart jars with lids and rings

Caramelize the onions by melting the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sautee until browned and soft in texture, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In the jars, pour 2 tablespoons salad dressing. Layer the cooled onions, steak, cheese and as much lettuce as you can fit into the jar.

Super Simple Summer Dessert: No-Bake Key Lime Pie

Tonight’s dessert is brought to you by a healthy dose of nostalgic impulse.

It was one of those mornings where it felt like nothing was going according to plan…from a toddler waking up more than an hour before she was expected to, to unbridled resistance to the order of getting dressed, the act of meal planning during a holiday week with a weather forecast that made me want to put my husband on grilling duty. Every. Single. Night.

With the humidity adding to the weight of the day’s to-dos, an unexpected traffic snarl only added to the mental frazzles, where you have to remind yourself that you’re a grown-up. You’ve handled worse. You can get through this. And besides, you need to restock the wine.

That’s how, as I stood in the produce section of the grocery store and saw that limes were on sale, my mind went on a trip. Back to my early teens, when my parents would drop me off at the bus station in in the city with a ticket taking me north to the station nearest my grandparents’ cabin, and my grandpa would pick me up for the hour’s drive to the point where their cabin stood. Back to one of those heavy-hot summer mornings, where the occasional breeze that danced across the lake’s surface before drifting through the wide-open cabin windows felt heaven-sent. The mental picture of my grandma, rummaging through her pantry for a can of sweetened condensed milk to join the two limes and pre-made graham cracker crust on the counter.

“We had this for dessert at a friend’s place the other night, and it was delicious,” she explained, shouting a little because her head was still deep in the pantry. “I asked her for the recipe, and she rattled off four ingredients.” That last part was kind of spat out, like she couldn’t believe something so good took such little effort.

“So,” she sighed as she clanked the can down on the counter, “let’s teach you how to make key lime pie.”

Little flecks of lime zest bring the promise of sweet-tart coolness.

There we stood, side-by-side in the cabin kitchen, as she walked me through the very simple process of making a no-bake key lime pie. She was right: it was so easy, and so good. For a day when you didn’t want to heat the rest of the place with an oven, it was just right.

Topping the pie with whipped cream helps cut the richness of the dessert. (I kid, I kid.)

There’s no secret to the recipe, and I’m sure it’s been shared tons of times. But limes were on sale, and thinking through tonight’s dinner plans — grilled burgers, corn on the cob — the thought of a little key lime pie, tangy-sweet coolness giving the palate a pick-me-up and soother all at the same time, felt like a must. Less than a heartbeat later I was adding two limes to the little bag I had started, and mentally adding a can of sweetened condensed milk and mini graham cracker crusts to the shopping list.

No-Bake Key Lime Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 limes (the zest of 1 lime collected for the pie)
  • 1 large graham cracker pie crust, or 6 mini graham cracker pie crusts
  • Whipped cream or topping – according to your preference

Directions

  1. Zest one of the limes, reserving the zest for later.
  2. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, juice the 2 limes (they should yield 1/2 cup of lime juice).
  3. Add the sweetened condensed milk and lime zest, stirring briskly to combine.
  4. Pour into the pie crust(s) and place in the refrigerator to set, for approximately 2 hours.
  5. Serve with a healthy dollop of whipped cream.

Kindness starts

Every now and then I’m struck by the immense power of kindness.

It doesn’t cost a thing to be kind. And the benefits of kindness are far reaching and do more good than charging after the unattainable.

Just as it’s important to remember to be kind to others, it’s also easy to lose sight of the importance of being kind to yourself.

That’s why it feels like a blessing to remember that small but critical point: Kindness has to start with being kind to yourself.

Mama Wren

There was no sweeter sight than when we were outside this morning, enjoying a little fresh air before going off to daycare and work, and the kiddos caught sight of a mother wren flying to the little wren house hanging off the porch. 

We talked about the babies inside the house who wanted their breakfast; smiles spread across their faces as Mama Wren lit on the perch, some morsel in her beak, and the tiny cacophony from inside the wren house quieted down.

I watched the universe shrink just a bit for them. They recognized how other creatures are “mothered” (for lack of a better word), and it was my luck to capture that realization as it dawned on both their faces.

Right before they resumed the squabble over who got to use the sidewalk chalk.

Tiny steps of progress

One of the hardest parenting lessons for me — hands down — is slowing down and being okay with not charging ahead at the breakneck pace I’d really, really like to do.

Progress is progress, though. And I’ll take any measure of it I can get. Especially when it’s taking way longer to complete than I’d like.