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11.30.21
We took Will to his first concert in 2018, when he was 8 years old, and, except for the 18 months during Covid where pretty much the entire concert venue/touring industry shut down, we've been taking him to shows pretty regularly.

Most of those have been sit-down shows with reserved seats, however—he hasn't really been to a rock show at a club. I've been looking for the right artist/venue for that experience, and I thought I had finally found it when a band called Origami Angel was playing the Masquerade on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving. It was an early show, it was an all-ages show, and they were the third band on a four-band bill, meaning their show would likely be around 8:00 and be over before 9:00. Will had voiced unprompted approval for a few of their songs when they came up on a shuffle playlist, so I figured this would be a great first show for him in a club setting.

But then Covid intervened, as it has so many other times in the past year and a half: two days before the Atlanta show, the band announced that the singer/guitarist had come down with Covid, and they were dropping out of the rest of the tour. I was luckily able to resell the tickets for the remaining bands for the same price I paid for them, so no harm there, but now I'll have to be on the lookout for another show in one of the many rock clubs in Atlanta that I can take Will to.


11.29.21
We had a very busy Thanksgiving week. We had a rare visit from my Uncle Gary (my mom's brother), who had come to visit my mom a few days earlier for her birthday and then went to visit his own kids, stopping to have lunch with us while he was in Atlanta (his two daughters live in the area, one in Atlanta proper and the other a couple of hours away in a small town in the mountains). The main purpose of the visit was to gameplan a coordinated effort to get my mom to consider moving to an assisted living facility, but it was also nice just to have a social visit with him.

My dad and stepmother came into town a few days after that for Thanksgiving, and we did a lot of stuff around Atlanta, like visits to the zoo and of course a trip to the botanical gardens to see the holiday lights. Our rental house isn't big enough to host Thanksgiving, so we had Thanksgiving dinner out at my sister's house. And then we had a day or so to recuperate before we had to get back into school/work routines for one last little push before we get to the much needed winter break.


11.19.21
I think Will would have struggled with the transition to middle school no matter what, but having the fire happen and all of our various relocations in the wake of that disaster has exacerbated things, taking him away from his friends and a normal school schedule, and adding more anxiety and stress to a year when he was likely going to be overloaded with those issues anyway.

His school years always start out rough, but he usually gets into the hang of things after a couple of months, especially once his teachers get to know him and start to see that, despite his focus and hyperactivity issues, he's a bright kid who works hard and wants to do well. But that's harder to do in a middle school setting.

I was about his age when my father made me start going to a private school where I didn't know anyone, and when my mother got remarried (and then quickly divorced) and moved us across town. So I was in a situation where I didn't know anyone in my neighborhood and didn't go to the same school as anyone in my neighborhood, and I also didn't know anyone in my school and didn't live in the same neighborhood as anyone in my school.

So I can sympathize with him to some extent, but I was a much less social kid than Will is, and that amplifies the social issues that everyone experiences in middle school. We're lucky that most of his friends from elementary school are also in his middle school, and a few of them are in his classes, but with the rental house, we're also in a situation where he doesn't live where his classmates live and he doesn't go to school with any of the neighbor kids, so he's more isolated socially than he might be otherwise. And of course, all of this is exacerbated by Covid precautions.

Hopefully he'll settle in and have a decent year, and hopefully we'll be back in a more permanent living situation before he finishes his second year (although moving in the middle of a school year won't be any fun either). If he can get through middle school, I'm hoping high school might be a little easier for him, since we'll be back in our house and the high school is much, much closer to where we live than the middle school is.


11.18.21
It's my mom's birthday, and even though she's been through a lot in the past few years, this is the first time in a while where I've wondered if she will live to see another one. She's not that old—74, much younger than Julie's mom—but with all the surgeries and other health issues she's dealt with in the past few years, she seems at least a decade older than that. I worry she's just one more slip and fall or other unexpected issue away from a permanent downhill slide that she won't recover from.

So we're trying to prioritize the time we have with her, although it's hard with where she lives. She not far from Atlanta, but even on a good travel day, it's 45 minutes each way, so we can't head out there during the week, and with all the other stuff we have going on these days, it's hard to make it on the weekends more often than every other week. Covid has of course complicated all this as well—if either she or anyone in our household has had a potential exposure, we'll wait out the required quarantine days just to make sure we don't pass it to each other. And it's getting to the time of year where it's too cold to hang out on her back porch—indoors are the only option if we want to do a visit.


11.17.21
The insurance process is going very, very slowly, which is what everyone told us to expect. But it's a bummer—before we can even start thinking about selecting a contractor, we at least have to have a somewhat solid offer from the insurance company in terms of the rebuilding funds. And so far they have been dragging their feet about even getting us a preliminary assessment, which we will almost certainly have to push back against, because it's likely to be a very lowball offer.

We were really hoping that we might have a shot at being back in our house within a year of the fire, even if it ends up needing a complete rebuild (which is still to be determined, and which we likely won't know for sure until whatever contractor we select starts their demolition process), but that seems increasingly unlikely with every day that passes. If they don't get us a preliminary offer until next month, and then it takes at least a month more to haggle back and forth to get to a reasonable final offer (although there will be additional haggling over separate buckets of money like code improvements, etc.), that means we won't be able to start vetting contractors until February at the earliest.

The people we've talked to so far say that, aside from permitting, etc., the restoration/rebuild will take at least six months, and permitting could take 2-3 months (or more, because we're in a historic district). So if everything went perfectly, that means we'd be looking at being able to move back in around this time next year. And we all know that it won't all go perfectly.

This is a nice little house in a nice neighborhood, but it's not our home. And the thought of having to spend more than a year of our lives here is just too overwhelming and depressing to contemplate sometimes.


11.16.21
The night after the two Magnetic Fields shows in a row, I went to yet another concert: Dinosaur Jr. at the Masquerade. I went with my friend Jonathan (the same one who joined me for Waxahatchee in October), and it was the first time seeing them for both of us.

Dinosaur Jr. are famous for how loud their shows are, and that was definitely the case for this show. We were standing on the top level at the farthest balcony back, and there were times when I felt like the guitars were going to blow us out the back wall. I very rarely wear earplugs to shows, but I definitely wish I'd brought some to that show—it overwhelmed my ears so quickly that it was sometimes hard to make out which song they were playing until they got to the chorus.

It was a cool experience—it's somewhat of a rite of passage to experience the band in their ragged, eardrum-busting glory—but I don't know if I'd do it again. The band seems so attached to their mythos of being loud that it detracts a bit from actually being able to experience the music. Earplugs might change that, but that solution washes out so much of the nuance and power of a live show that diminishing the music in the other direction isn't a great outcome either.


11.15.21
Last Thursday and Friday we went to two more shows that we had originally purchased tickets for in 2020: Magnetic Fields playing at City Winery. These shows were originally scheduled for June 2020, then rescheduled January 2021, then finally rescheduled for these November dates.

One of the original dates was on our wedding anniversary, so I had purchased two tickets for that night so Julie and I could go, and then three tickets for the second night so we could take Will and all three go together. The venue had sent out emails saying our seats would transfer to the corresponding nights and we didn't need to do anything, so I trusted that to happen. But when I logged on to their site to make sure I had the nights for three tickets and two tickets correct, I noticed that the system was showing me as only have tickets for one of the shows, the seats weren't the same seats I had purchased, and I wasn't showing any tickets for the other night.

When I contacted the venue, they admitted that they had switched ticketing/inventory systems during the pandemic, and the old purchases all had to be manually re-entered from the old system to the new one. So someone must have gotten confused by me having tickets to both evenings and screwed things up. I really wanted them to restore my original tickets (I had logged on as soon as they went on sale and gotten us seats for both nights that were at the center table right against the stage), but they had already sold my tickets to other people and weren't willing to revoke those tickets and give those people the seats they were offering to me. Which didn't feel like the right thing to do at all, given that I was the original purchaser of those seats (and I had proof of that in my original confirmation emails).

What they did instead was give us the best seats remaining, which were still at tables next to the stage, just not the center tables, and also give me a refund on three of the five tickets. I still would have preferred to keep my original seats, but I guess that was an okay compromise, and I used those refunded dollars to buy the box sets of both 69 Love Songs and 50 Song Memoir at the merch table.

The shows themselves were pretty good, although they played the EXACT same setlist both nights. Since this tour was a sequence of two-night engagements, I was assuming they would play different setlists each night, knowing that a decent percentage of fans would come to both nights, but I guess they assumed people would only go to one of the shows. It was still nice to have one night out with just Julie and one where we were able to bring Will as well, but it would have been great if at least 50% of the songs had been different between the two nights.


11.12.21
Since I started collecting vinyl, I've bought a lot of stuff online, but I've also been venturing out to explore Atlanta's many record stores. I mostly look for used stuff at those, but I've taken note when stores stock new music (although I've learned that you pretty much have to go in every day if you want to make sure you get something—the vinyl doesn't always arrive on the official release date, nor does its arrival in the store mean it will be on the shelves that day or the next).

It's been really fun to see all the variations between the stores, both in terms of the type and quality of used music they buy/sell, what they prioritize in new releases (if they even sell new releases), and how the stores are organized. There's a definitely personality to each store, and I get the strong sense that all of these factors—organization of their shelves, kinds of records they sell, and overall vibe of the store—are heavily influenced by the personalities of the owners, typically people who've owned and run the stores for decades.

So far I've visiting Wuxtry in Decatur (they have a more famous outpost in Athens, but the Decatur version opened in Atlanta only a couple of years after the Athens original, and both have been open for more than 40 years), Wax 'n' Facts in Little Five Points, Ella Guru in Oak Grove, and the Record Loft in Avondale. Wuxtry is cool to visit, but the bins are really difficult to stand and flip through, and it's so popular that nothing stays on the shelves for very long, so you have to be really lucky to find something you want. Wax 'n' Facts is my favorite so far—great used selection, good new selection, and bins that are relatively easy to access (except one little corner where there's not really enough space).

Ella Guru definitely looks for older records to sell, so if you're into the 60s and 70s, that's a great place to look around, but I tend to be focused on the 80s when I'm looking for used stuff, so I didn't personally find a lot during my two visits so far. The Record Loft is brand new and they also only sell used vinyl, but they have a lot more from the 80s forward and I've had good luck finding some gems there.

These stores are just the tip of the iceberg—there are several more record shops inside the perimeter, and then a bunch more just outside in places like Alpharetta, Kennesaw, Roswell, and even one that looks pretty good that's in the Battery, the retail/dining district that surrounds the Braves stadium. I'll make my way around to all of them eventually, but even if I was limited just to the ones I've been to already, I'd already feel lucky to live in a place where there's such easy access to a thriving vinyl scene.


11.11.21
In early October, I attended my first indoor concert since January 2020, right before the start of the pandemic that basically shut down live music for over a year. It was for a Waxahatchee show that was originally scheduled for April 2020, then rescheduled to September 2020, then rescheduled again for May 2021, and finally rescheduled for October 2021. I had tickets for lots of shows in that March-June 2020 timeframe, but I think this is the one that was rescheduled the most times.

I had also gotten a ticket for Julie, but she wasn't quite ready to go back to a crowded indoor environment, so friend Jonathan (one of my college roommates who only lives about a five minute drive from our rental house) used her ticket and came with me. Our mutual friend Wes and his wife also had tickets, so we met up with them and hung out the whole show.

The show itself was fine, but frontwoman Katie Crutchfield went full Loretta Lynn/old school country on her last album, and she continued that theme in both the music and her stagecraft/outfit. One of the things I love about Katie/Waxahatchee is that she finds a different musical muse for each album, so there's a distinct vibe to each one. But one of the things I don't like about her live shows is that she then filters her older songs through the filter of whatever album she's promoting at the time, so not only did we get the country flavor of her latest work, but her older songs also got that treatment, which took away some of their unique charms.

A couple of weeks after that show, Modest Mouse announced a surprise late night show at the Masquerade the night before their set at Shaky Knees the next day (they were playing the penultimate slot on the last day of the festival, playing just before headliners the Strokes). I managed to get two tickets to that show as well, and went with my friend Jeff. The doors didn't open until 10 that night, and Modest Mouse didn't come on until close to midnight, by far the latest show I've seen in Atlanta, where most headliners go on by 9 and are done no later than 11.

I had pretty low expectations for this show, but I really like Modest Mouse's latest album, The Golden Casket, and I was excited to see them in a relatively small venue. But it was a really great show with a good mix of deeper cuts from their earlier albums and songs from the new album (plus the obligatory hit "Dashboard", but surprisingly no "Float On", the song that brought them into the mainstream).

I have tickets for a couple more shows this year, and then hopefully next year will be a more typical year for touring. I've missed live music so much—it's one of the things I've really loved about living in Atlanta—and I hope we don't get any worse variants of Covid that would put a pause on the industry again.


11.10.21
While I did manage to get us tickets to see one of the Braves home games for the NLDS, I didn't have any success getting World Series tickets at retail prices, and I just couldn't justify the crazy resale prices. However, one of the Braves home games for the World Series happened to fall on the same day as the final home game for Atlanta United, which meant that tons of the wealthier season ticket holders for Atlanta United were otherwise occupied that day. So I watched Stubhub closely, and was able to snag tickets to the AMG Lounge for far below face value.

The primo field seats on either side of the field include access to an area underneath the seating level with lots of nice seating, exclusive concessions, and access to stand next to the field, but the AMG Lounge goes beyond even that experience. It is reserved for the center section of those primo sections, and in addition to access to the special area under seats, you additionally get access to another part of that area that includes an open bar and a free buffet that is available from when the stadium opens until the end of the game.

I've gotten cheap seats once or twice before for the primo area, but never for the center section that included the free buffet, etc. So not only was he excited when we surprised him with a trip to the stadium for the game, but he was doubly surprised when the seats were in the nice area, and triply surprised when it was in the super exclusive area that we'd never been to before.

We got there early so we could take full advantage of the buffet, hang out by the field for a bit, and explore all the amenities in the private area. Our actual seats were in the very last row of the section, so we did watch some of the game from there, but we spent more time taken advantage of the exclusive access section, watching the game either from the monitors or going out to the sideline for a few minutes.

I would have loved to have been able to take Will to a World Series game, but this was a pretty good substitute, especially from Will's perspective—he's always been much more about the overall experience of attending sporting events than the actual gameplay on the field.


11.9.21
One bright spot in an otherwise miserable year: the Braves finally made a deep playoff run and won the World Series, beating the universally-reviled (except in Houston) cheating Astros in six games to take home their first world championship since 1995. The Braves 14 year streak winning the NL East concluded in 2005, but after a dry spell that lasted until 2010, they've made the playoffs seven times since then.

However, it wasn't until last year that they advanced beyond the division round for the firs time since 2001, missing out on their first trip the World Series by only one game after losing the NLCS to the Dodgers in a series that went all seven games after the Braves were up 3-1 before dropping the final three games.

But this year they improbably put it all together for the first time since 1995, despite a lackluster start to the season that had them entering August with a losing record after never having a winning record up to that point. They lost superstar Ronald Acuna in early July for the rest of the season, and despite several times when they went on win streaks to break even at .500, they would always follow that with several losses that allowed the Mets to stay ahead of them in the division race.

The Mets had a four game lead on Aug 1, and most fans had given up on getting to the postseason at that point. But the front office put all their chips in and acquired several players in the two weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, which revitalized the team and allowed them to go on a late-season tear. In August alone they went 18-8, including a 9 game win streak in the middle of the month, and they entered September seven games above .500 with a 1 1/2 game lead over the Mets.

For their last 14 games of the season, they went 14-2 to finish 6.5 games in front of division runner-ups the Phillies (the Mets had a disastrous September; the Braves ended up 11.5 games ahead of them). They went 3-1 against the Brewers to move on from the division round to the NLCS, where they once again faced the Dodgers (who went on to win the 2020 World Series after beating the Braves in the NCLS in 2020).

This was another tight series, with the Braves again up 3-1 after the first four games (just like in 2020), but this time they landed the killing blow, taking the series 4-2 after six games. It was a similar result in the World Series—they were up 3-1 over the Astros, and the final series ended up at 4-2 after six games.

I've been a fan of this team since my sophomore year of college, when one of my roommates (who grew up in southwest Georgia in a little town called Fitzgerald) got me into the team (and into baseball in general). I went to spring training two or three times while I was in college and grad school (back then, the Braves played in West Palm Beach in a shared facility with the Expos, and my mom happened to live in nearby Fort Lauderdale at the time), and I also made frequent trips to see the club's AAA team, the Richmond Braves, when I was in grad school in Charlottesville at UVA.

I was over the moon when, after two failed attempts to win the World Series in 1991 and 1992, just missing another World Series in 1993, and losing the 1994 postseason to the players strike, the Braves returned to the World Series in 1995 and finally won it for the first time since 1957 and the first time since relocating to Atlanta. The 2021 victory wasn't quite as meaningful to me as that 1995 championship was—I don't follow baseball as closely these days—but it was great to experience it while living in Atlanta and having a nice shared sports memory with my son.


11.8.21
We've been in the rental house for about a month now, and although it will never, ever be home or even feel like a reasonably facsimile of the home we lost, we are getting used to it. Will's room is a little converted attic space with a window to the backyard, I have a little office where I can have my desk, computer, and my small but growing collection of records, and Julie splits her work-from-home hours between a small desk in our bedroom (which also has a nice big bay window that overlooks the backyard) and the screened porch.

We're in a nice little neighborhood, and we have several friends who already happened to live nearby. But again, it's not our neighborhood, and it's also not in Will's school district, so we have some fairly complicated logistics to drop him off and pick him up every day. But we'll find a way to make it work - even though there's another middle school a ten minute walk from here that we could send him to, he's had enough disruption in his life already, and we don't want to send him to that school knowing that he'd have to switch back to his current school whenever our house gets rebuilt.

We could certainly be worse off, and we're lucky to have found this place. But it's frustrating to live somewhere that you can't really make your own, where most of the furniture is rented and mismatched, and where we have even less space than we did in our cozy home, which was just the right size for the three of us. So we'll make do, but we're all hoping that we'll get enough money from insurance to rebuild our house, and that we can some day soon start looking forward to rebuilding it and dreaming of the day we can move back in.


11.5.21
There's a lot of trauma that I'm still processing from the fire (and I'm sure I will continue to process for months if not years), and that's manifesting itself in some weird ways. Some of these are probably pretty common: vivid dreams about the event, reliving my experience over and over during my waking hours, and breaking down crying frequently and randomly as I remember all that we've lost, especially our dear, beloved cats.

But some of my body's reactions are unpredictable and defy easy explanation. One of these is particularly problematic in this era of remote work and Zoom calls: I can't be in a Zoom call with more than three or four people without having a panic/anxiety attack and needing to drop from the call. I supposed I'm lucky that work right now is remote and there aren't a ton of essential Zoom calls on my calendar that I can't shift to a discussion over email or Slack, because I can't imagine going in to the physical office anytime soon.

But it's a strange aftereffect of the fire, as I haven't had any fear of talking in front of large groups of people, no matter what the format/medium, in a very long time. I'm assuming I'll get over it at some point, and I'm sure that will be hastened by my slowly increasing my exposure. But right now, I just can't, and I can't really offer an explanation as to why. But I am going to pay attention to my body and prioritize my mental health, and right now my body and mind are telling me there's no way in hell they're doing this.


11.4.21
Our house fire started on our outdoor screen porch and made its way up to the attic, which was almost completely burned. The rest of the house, however, was mostly untouched by the actual flames, and at first we thought a lot of our belongings would be salvageable. However, after a review from the contents recovery folks, it became clear that the heat, the smoke/soot, and the water had ruined pretty much everything we owned, even the stuff down in the basement where I kept most of my various collections.

Although insurance will supposedly compensate us for these things, I made the decision not to try to rebuild or recreate any of them. But I know I need to channel those energies into something, so I decided to start over and get into a hobby I have considered for years but avoided because I didn't have the budget and space for it: vinyl records. I love music so much, and I can limit my purchases to albums I already know I love, where the physical media will just give me another way to connect with something that already means something to me.

I had been lurking on a Facebook group (invited by a friend from high school with similar musical tastes) where people would post photos and commentaries about music they were listening to. The catch: you could only post music that you owned and were playing on some sort of physical media. So that's why I was a lurker: even though I still purchase all the music I listen to, I've been all-digital for about a decade now, so I wasn't eligible. I contented myself with liking and commenting on other people's posts, which was still great—it's a wonderful little community of music lovers.

So I started buying albums in early October, just after we moved into the rental house, and I also ordered a decent but affordable turntable from Audio-Technica that was supposed to arrive by mid-October. However, after it kept getting delayed, I eventually broke down and got a similar Sony model from a local store and made my first post to the group:

Jeff Rosenstock - POST-
Half Cloudy/Clear/Half Silver with Light Blue Spatter
Purchased from Polyvinyl website

"Dumbfounded, downtrodden, and dejected
Crestfallen, grief-stricken, and exhausted"

I've been lurking in this group for a while but this is my first post here because, up until today, I hadn't listened to music via a physical medium in a decade or so. This is a long-ish post, and I don't know how many of you will make it to the end of it, so let me say this early: thank you for this weird community of music lovers, and thank you for all the stories about your music you've shared.

I've always been a big purchaser of music, and that continued even as I transitioned away from CDs to downloads. I'm also a serious collector of things, and I've long considered buying vinyl records as a way to have a tangible connection to the music I love.

But I only have so much time and money to spend on collections, and only so much space to display them, and I was pretty set with my other collections, notably my vinyl art toy collection, which has been the main focus of my collecting impulses for the past 15 years. That collection included hundreds of figures from dozens of different artists, with a focus on artists like Amanda Visell, Huck Gee, Tara McPherson, Dok A, and most importantly Frank Kozik, whose work comprised about a third of my total collection.

But about a month ago, our house burned down from a still-undetermined electrical issue, and the fire and smoke and water took with them everything I had collected since I was a kid: thousands of comic books, hundreds of Star Wars figures, tens of thousands of baseball cards, thousands of CDs, and hundreds of books. And even though it was in the basement closed up in display cases as far from the fire as you could get, pretty much my entire art toy collection.

I couldn't bear the thought of trying to rebuild any of these collections, especially the art toys - every time I looked at the rebuilt collection, all I would think about were the pieces that were missing, especially the one-of-a-kind pieces that can never be replaced. So I decided to start completely fresh with a new collection.

Vinyl records are a good fit for a number of reasons: I already have a strong link to the objects through the music, there's tons of version and gear rabbit holes to go down depending on the obsession level I end up at, and they don't take up a ton of room (this important because we're going to be in a rental house for at least a year while we rebuild). But the music is the most important part, and I really like the idea of experiencing already-beloved songs in a new format that might let me hear details I've never noticed before.

I had long been tempted by the two recently-issued colorways of Jeff Rosentstock's POST- (Half Cloudy/Clear/Half Silver with Light Blue Spatter and Clear Dark Teal). I love that album so much that I almost bought both versions even before I had any intention of collecting vinyl records, so it was a no-brainer to make those my first purchases.

There's a lot of coincidental symbolic meaning tied up in this record too, starting with the title POST-: everything in my life from this day forward will be post-fire, with the day our house burned down joining my pantheon of personally significant days along with events like my first date with my eventual wife and the day my son was born. And the closing lines of the first verse of "USA", the first song on the record: "Trapped in my room while the house was burning/to the motherfucking ground." Rosenstock meant that metaphorically, but the song's visceral punch hits you even harder when you've been in an actual, literal fire.

I'm still figuring out what kind of collector I'm going to be, but I've made a couple of rules for my initial forays into this world: I'm only going to buy vinyl copies of albums I already know I love, and I'm going to try to buy from local record stores when I can. I can also already tell that I have a weakness for colored vinyl that's designed to complement the artwork of the album cover, and that has comprised the bulk of my new purchases so far (this is my first day of listening because I just acquired a turntable, but I've been in collecting mode for the past couple of weeks).

Diving into Discogs, hunting down copies of records on my wantlist, getting lost in multiple branching gear tributaries, and seeing your posts every day has been a welcome distraction from all the fallout from the fire: documenting our destroyed possessions, moving to an Airbnb, moving AGAIN to a long-term rental, and rebuying every necessity, from computers to toothbrushes to clothing to dinner plates. Brighter days are ahead, and as always, music will be a big part of my journey back to a better place. Thank you for letting me share my story.


11.3.21
Less than a week after the fire, we got word that my uncle Gary had passed away. We had just moved to the Airbnb where we stayed for the first few weeks after the fire and were still shell-shocked from that event, and it was just so overwhelming to hear about his death.

He was married to my dad's sister, and they had lived together in Jacksonville, FL, for the entirety of my existence. He served two tours in Vietnam, and he had the bearing of a military man that you start to recognize on sight if you spend enough time around military folks (I spent most of my childhood in Fayetteville, NC, near Fort Bragg). They used to have a lake cabin an hour or so from Jacksonville where we spent a few summers riding dirt bikes and waterskiing behind a striking red and white boat.

The memorial service was scheduled for Oct 9, which was only a few days after we transitioned from the Airbnb to our long-term rental house, and although we were still so overwhelmed from the fallout from the loss of our pets and our home and the uncertainty about our future in Atlanta, I knew I needed to be there. So I drove down to Jacksonville the day before the service and stayed all weekend, getting to spend more time with my aunt and my cousins that I had since I was a kid during those summer days at the lake.

My dad, stepmother, and youngest sister all made the trip down from North Carolina as well, and we all stayed in the same hotel, so I got some quality time with them too (including my two nephews). It was a nice church service, but the best part of the trip was going back to my aunt's house afterward and hanging out with my cousins and their kids until later in the evening. It was so great not only to hear their stories about uncle Gary, but also to catch up on their lives and families. It's just a shame Gary couldn't be there to share in all of it - he always loved the family get-togethers. But his presence was definitely felt despite his physical absence.


11.2.21
As my reprint of Julie's note to our friends mentioned, we lost our three beloved cats in the fire—we tried to leave as many doors open as we could, but they did what indoor cats do and hid, and they all died from smoke inhalation. It was the first time since Julie and I have been married that we didn't have at least one cat, and the only time in Will's whole life when he hasn't had a cat, so as soon as we signed the lease on the rental property, we started looking for rescued cats who were being fostered who we could adopt and give a permanent home to.

We knew we wanted a pair—we didn't want just one, and our lease agreement for the long-term rental only allowed two—and we decided to visit two foster homes that each had a bonded duo. The first were two kitten brothers, and while they were nice (but scared) and we knew we could have made a happy family with them, we also knew they'd be much easier to adopt out than the second set of kitties we saw.

The other kitties were had foster names of Oreo and Gracie, and they were mother and daughter. Someone had called the rescue organization when they found Oreo, who was less than a year old herself at that point, pregnant and wandering the streets. The foster mom took her and and she gave birth in the foster home, bringing four siblings into the world: three brothers and her only daughter, Gracie. The boys had all already been adopted out, leaving just mom and daughter looking for a home.

We took an instant liking to them, even though Gracie was incredibly skittish (she still is) and Oreo was sweet and protective but also very territorial and a little touchy with some biting tendencies (she is still all those things as well). We knew they'd have a lot harder time getting adopted, especially as a pair, than the brothers we'd visited earlier, and we also knew we could give them a good kitty life together. We told the foster mom that day that we'd adopt them, and made plans to pick them up a couple of days after we were moved into our long-term rental house.

We've always renamed our cats (we've never bought a cat, either taking them in off the street ourselves or adopting them from a pound or rescue/foster organization) because I'm very particular about names and, if I do say so myself, I'm pretty good at finding just the right name for a cat. Oreo did not fit the mother cat's personality at all, but both with her attitude and her markings, she reminded me of a cat a roommate of mine had many years ago who he named Lolita (after the Nabokov book). So I tried out Lola for her, and it fit perfectly.

Gracie was harder, and at the end of the day, I just couldn't come up with anything better. So Gracie she stayed, the only cat I can ever remember not renaming in what is now thirty years of owning cats.

Gracie hid under the couch for the first few days, but luckily she is very food-motivated, so she'd at least come out for mealtimes, and she eventually got used to us and started to exhibit more normal affectionate cat behaviors (although she still bolts when someone comes to the door). Lola spent the first couple of weeks relentlessly patrolling the very small rental house, and she was very touchy about getting petted anywhere below her head/neck area, instantly turning over on her back and getting into attack position with her teeth and claws, but she's settled down a little bit on both fronts. I don't know that she'll ever really be a lapcat, but she's definitely getting used to getting petted and scratched without thinking that every touch is an invitation to play/fight.

We already love them both very much, and while they absolutely cannot replace the love we have for the three cats we lost in the fire, they have been a great salve for all of us, and they've made this temporary house feel more like a home. I grieve for our beloved Poe, Wolfie, and Jasper every single day, and I can't imagine that will stop anytime soon—they were all so young, and they were a great trio—but I'm also happy we're able to give Lola and Gracie a good home and a good life together.


11.1.21
Here's a tip that you probably think you don't need but you definitely do: when you have a major claim against them, the insurance company is not your friend. Your agent, who has nothing to do with evaluating and processing your claim, will play the part of your friend and your first contact, setting the stage for the adjuster and their team who will quickly follow. And even your adjuster, the one who formally decides how much the insurance company will pay on the claim, will pretend to be friendly at first. That's so you will hopefully see them as a trusted ally who is there to guide you through the process rather than what they actually are: someone who will do everything in their power to make sure that the insurance company pays you as little as possible and argues with you on every point if you ever start to push back despite the vast gulf between their expertise and yours.

We quickly realized we were in over our heads dealing with them, and as we started to connect with other people who had been through catastrophic fires (friends of friends, colleagues, etc.), we got pretty much the same advice from all of them: find a public adjuster and let them fight all those battles for you. So within a week of the fire, that's exactly what we did.

I had never heard of such a thing as a public adjuster before, but here's how pretty much all of them work: for a percentage of what they recover on the claim (typically 10%, which is what our public adjuster is charging us), they will be the point of contact with the insurance company, managing the relationship, revising the claim to recover as much money as possible, and arguing over how much things will cost to restore/recover/rebuild.

They also work on the contents part of the claim (the stuff in the house as opposed to the house itself; the house itself is covered under the dwelling portion of the policy), helping document all the items that were destroyed or are unsalvageable, and also documenting the restoration cost for any items that were salvageable but that needed to be cleaned/restored. And they'll look for other inefficiencies in the process.

For example: Servpro did a great day-one job of securing our property once the fire was out, boarding up every opening, putting a tarp over the damaged parts of the roof, and beginning the interior cleanup process, including running massive dehumidifiers to start getting out as much of the water as quickly as possible (another thing no one tells you: if your home is not completely destroyed by a fire, all or most of what remains will be irretrievably damaged by the smoke/soot and by the water that was used to put out the fire). But a week later, they were still running those dehumidifiers 24 hours a day even though the structure was obviously not airtight, and they never told us that it wasn't really helping anymore, content to keep charging us hundreds of dollars a day. As soon as we retained our public adjuster, they toured the property and realized this and immediately put a stop to that, saving us who knows how many thousands of dollars.

You learn quickly that you can't really trust anyone in this process, but at least with your public adjuster, your interests are pretty tightly aligned: the more money they recover for you, the more they get paid. I won't necessarily say they care about you—even though our adjuster has done a great job and has already likely recovered far more money for us than they will get paid even if we max out every aspect of the claim, they have had some fairly significant communication and reliability issues at times (apparently not unusual and not unique to the firm we signed with). But even with those issues, we still know that we'd be in a far worse position, and would have had to do a lot more work ourselves, than if we had not retained them.


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