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Archive for April, 2013

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I am finally catching up on email and came across this gem of a video, sent to me by our Atlanta pals Robert Roberts (aka “Two Bobs”) and Hila Roberts (thanks, you two!). They found a news report of a kindred spirit: an unlucky woman who finds herself in the same predicament as Grossman Family West. Hearing her narration brought back memories of last week for me—we both lost our shoes! Then the song made me smile, because I like to sing, too.

I know what song is going to be stuck in my head this week…

Ezra’s First Day of School

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

After the house fire, Avi’s preschool (Gan Ilan) offered to take Ezra into the “Twos Program” for the rest of the year, even though he’s technically not quite old enough (or, wasn’t at the beginning of the year). So, unexpectedly, Wednesday, April 24, 2013 was Ezra’s first day of school!

Not knowing a lot about school, he decided to follow his big brother’s lead:

Ezra's first day of school

So THIS is what I’m supposed to wear to school?

And, we’re thrilled to report that he fit right in! He mastered Art, listened to his teachers, and got soaking wet during water play (without any tears, all day). Many thanks to our friends at Gan Ilan for inviting Ezra to join them!

I wonder if I can take these home...

I wonder if I can take these home…

A new week with new beginnings

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Seen enough of these for one lifetime..

With the arrival of Monday, five days since the fire, we continue to be overwhelmed by the love, support, and generosity of friends, family, and strangers. Please please please forgive both this impersonal mass email and the fact that we have not yet responded to your kind words and offers of help. We have had our hands full with mundane items to take care of which, embarrassingly, have left us without enough time (at the moment!) to show you the personal gratitude that we would like. While the boys have remained in Seattle with extended family during the past week, Holly and Joel were fed, clothed, supported, advised, and loved from near and far. We will absolutely thank each one of you personally when we arrive on more stable ground but in the meantime please accept our deepest gratitude for all that you have done personally and the additional help that you have mobilized for us by leveraging your networks. It means the world to us that you have all been so thoughtful when we stumbled and we’re not sure what we have done to deserve it. Indeed, even before this incident, we have been so amazed by the challenges that many of you have overcome—you inspire us to keep a chin up through this inconvenience.

We wanted to send an update to try to field the most frequent questions:

  • How bad was it? For those of you who can’t help but slow down and look as you are driving by a car accident (and let’s be honest—that’s all of us!), I have exciting news: we have posted both a video tour and a photo album of the damage. The more observant folks will notice changes in the pictures—they were taken over a number of days (including a set from 2 AM the night of the fire–before the boards were put up). If you have never been to our house, I highly recommend FIRST watching the video of the boys’ recent Superhero-themed birthday party, which we hosted at our house (or see the photos here), both because Holly threw a killer party and also because it sets up a powerful before/after comparison as the party was in all parts of the house. If you live in the Bay Area and want to see the wreckage in person, we’re happy to take you by. If you can learn any lessons from our loss, please do (suggested lessons: don’t use crappy heating systems, know where the fire extinguisher is, personal safety matters more than stuff, wood burns—fast, etc).
  • Are you OK? Yes, we’re fine, in large part thanks to the amazing support of friends and family, near and far. Sure, it’s not as comfortable as if we were, you know, at home, but we’ve already started to buy new stuff that works just as well as the old stuff did (like shoes). That said, please don’t make fun of us if you notice us wearing the same clothes with more frequency in the coming weeks.
  • Where are you living? We’re in a Hyatt House seven miles from our house, chosen because we have two attached bedrooms with a full kitchen. While we have a TV, there is no DVR, so we’re falling behind on Mad Men and Game of Thrones. Please do not give away any endings. The hotel room is small but cozy for the time being (the boys get back with Holly on Tuesday). I’m sure we’ll be going crazy in a few weeks. We are actively looking for rental houses for 12-24 months within about 5 miles from our house and have some promising leads.
  • What’s next? Top priority is finding a more permanent temporary housing solution for the next 12-24 months and an attempt to return to normalcy. Joel is going to return to work on Monday. Holly and the boys return to the bay area on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Avi and Ezra will go to pre-school (the preschool invited Ezra into the “twos program” in light of the circumstances, even though he’s too young). In the background, we’ll be dealing with the insurance company… so far, this has gone decently well and we hope that that continues (I’m looking at YOU, Safeco).
  • Do the boys know? Yes. Holly spoke to Avi about it this weekend and Ezra was there, as well. Ezra is two years old and we pretty much figure that “home” is where mom and dad are, so it’s not really an issue. Avi has had the very good fortune of being born into a family that has friends and family all over the country and the opportunity to travel with some frequency (Seattle for 10 days, Boston for a month, San Diego, etc) If he’s somewhere for more than a few days, he considers it a new home anyway. Thus, when told about the fire and that he’d be coming back to yet another home, it didn’t seem to phase him. We’ve got some legos waiting for him (among other toys both him and Ezra). Of course, we don’t claim to be experts and, after all, this IS the first time that we’ve had to tell our kids that their home and all of their belongings were obliterated in a catastrophic fire, so it’s possible that we’re reading them wrong. We’ll be monitoring feelings closely in the coming week.
  • What do you need? We are truly doing OK at the moment. The biggest challenges right now are time and comfort (doesn’t sound all that serious when you think of it that way, right?). We are trying to create a normal situation for the boys during our time in the hotel (which may be more than one month). Playdates are much appreciated and thank you to those who have provided delicious meals. We have no space for additional “things” at the moment, so as much as we appreciate it, please don’t try to send stuff. When we find a home to rent, we’ll have more space (though even then, we hope insurance will cover the replacement cost of replacement items). We need to make some new memories, though (and that doesn’t require space in our hotel room!), so we’d love to hang out.

That’s the latest from the West coast Grossmans. We won’t be doing mass emails any more but will continue to post family updates on the Grossman Family West blog. If you are inclined, you can have those updates automatically emailed to you by registering here.

Much love,
Joel, Holly, Avi, and Ezra

Update, 24 hours after the Fire

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

(I’m back-posting these two posts to capture an important moment in our family history. this is email 2 of 2)

This email was sent the morning of April 18, 2013:

We feel truly blessed, overwhelmed by the support, assistance, and well wishes from so many people, near and far. I have to admit that, living nowhere near other family, I had moments of panic (“what do I do?”) as I was sitting alone on my driveway at 11 pm watching the four engine’s worth of firefighters, in full gear, haul multiple hoses into my burning home. (“alone”, however, was a source of happiness in that moment: watching the fire billowed out of the roof and the windows of Ezra’s room blow out, I’ve never been happier to be away from my family).

The support from near and far for our family has been overwhelming: family, friends, co-workers, business partners, and even total strangers (I spent Fire Night in the house of a neighbor I’d never met) have been fantastic. We’ve been fed, clothed, shopped for, advised, and funded (literally handed cash because I had no wallet, ATM, credit cards, or ID). Our kids are taken care of. We long ago lost count of the numbers of offers of help and for that, we don’t even know how to express our gratitude. Over the past 48 hours, we have shed many more tears of appreciation, gratitude, and love than we have over any loss.

As for an update, Holly flew back to CA yesterday and got a tour of the remains; the boys are still in Seattle with family. We haven’t quite figured out what to tell Avi and Ezra yet. The insurance company has domiciled us in a local hotel and assigned a temporary housing company to start a housing search for us (we’ll likely need a rental for over a year). I’ve bought some clothes and shoes (and an incredible friend also went shopping for me and handed us bags of groceries). I grabbed a laptop from work along with cell phone chargers. Insurance investigators and adjusters are coming by later today. I’ve also been inundated by Public Assessors and Restoration Companies who literally wait at the house to hand me their card, offering to “help.”

In short, we’re OK. We have temporary lodging and resources for food and clothing. And Internet access  That covers the necessities. Holly will go back to Seattle this weekend and bring the boys back on Tuesday, as was originally scheduled. That’s where the next challenge begins, though again, there has already been an outpouring of offers of assistance in the form of playdates, clothing, etc. Avi’s teachers told us that they’re getting him a replacement Batman lunchbox.

Lots of emotions but at the end of the day, we lost stuff, most of it replaceable. That’s all that has happened. Inconvenient, to be sure, but nothing critical. We are fortunate in that we are able to buy new stuff which, over time, we’ll do. And we’ll likely appreciate that stuff even more. Or maybe less, recognizing more vividly that it will still just be replaceable stuff.

If this is our biggest challenge in life, we will have few complaints.

Due to the volume of emails, along with the time required for other logistics, I know I’m not being the most responsive. I apologize for that. It will get better over time… give me a few days to get the ball rolling and I’ll respond to emails more personally. I’ll likely move the longer explanations to our blog ( so as not to spam your Inbox, though those who are interested can still get all of the deets.

Again, many thanks for your thoughts and assistance and much love from the west coast,
Joel and Holly

Home Sweet…

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

(I’m back-posting these next two posts to capture an important moment in our family history. this is email 1 of 2)

At 3:20 AM pst on Tuesday, April 17, 2013, I sent the following email to my family titled “Probably not coming to Boston” (with Holly and the boys in Seattle, I was scheduled to visit Boston that weekend… the following Monday of which happened to be the Boston Marathon bombing)

The email read:
OK, now that i’ve prepared you with a slight disappointment in the subject line, I wanted to share some more serious news. Everyone’s health is fine.

Our house burned down tonight. I was alone at home (Holly and the kids are in Seattle), nobody was hurt.

Status Updates:

  • ME: I am fine. I am spending the night a very nice neighbor’s house and using her computer. I will work with the insurance company on a more permanent plan tomorrow and will keep everyone here updated (please let me know if you want me to include others). At the moment, I am expecting that all of my trips for the next week are cancelled (including my planned trip to Boston).
  • PROPERTY: Nearly everything in the house is destroyed, either actually burned and gone or “unsalvageable”. I personally have no clothes (Holly: you and the kids have only whatever you have with you in Seattle). I also happen to have no shoes since i had taken them off and put them in the closet when i got home (I’m actually feeling lucky that I had left my pants on which, as Holly knows, is a rarity in the evenings!). I have no wallet. All of that is easily replaceable. The only thing that’s gone that I care about is my wedding ring (I take it off at night before bed, so it was in the bedroom). WIFE: rest assured that I love you more, not less, without it!
  • CARS: I have recovered keys to our cars, which are functional (and may actually be fine… we’ll have to take a closer look in the daylight)
  • GLASS HALF FULL: as some of you may know, we were getting close to breaking ground on new construction anyway. Of course, we had no plans to get rid of our stuff. Construction costs will clearly go up at this point, but I’m optimistic that insurance will kick in a hefty sum both for the house and replacement stuff. We will need to replace literally everything that we own. If I’m trying to smile, I suppose I can joke here that Holly might have a good time doing that.
  • LESSONS: obviously i’m hugely thankful that nobody was actually hurt. Reflecting on it, the biggest surprise was how quickly it all happened. If I could do it over, i’d have planned better what I grabbed (like my wedding ring, wallet, and shoes). Given that there was nobody in the house, i didn’t have much to worry about and had the opportunity to grab things if it had occurred to me. Without a credit card and ID, i can’t get into a hotel (fire dept would have connected me to Red Cross had the nice neighbor not helped). The challenges of not having shoes are obvious.
  • NEXT STEPS: I meet with the Insurance adjuster tomorrow, and have ordered replacement credit cards. I am hopeful that I can get myself to the bank to take out cash with my Passport (I just went back into the house to grab it). The insurance company should help with lodging, etc. I’m a little concerned how we’ll “remember” everything that was in the house in terms of filing the claim, but that’s a problem for tomorrow.
  • Story:

    I was in the front of the house folding laundry and watching a TV show. I smelled a strange smell. At first, i thought a bug was getting fried on a lamp. Checked the lamp, no fried bug. I couldn’t quite tell where the smell was coming from. Explored the front room trying to find the source of the smell, no dice, so i went back and folded another shirt, when I smelled it again. Repeat a couple of times, no luck. Then, get this: when I couldn’t locate the source of the smell in my house, I actually wondered if a neighbor’s house was on fire, so I walked over and looked out the front window–trying to see if a neighbor’s house was on fire–and saw nothing.

    Fast forward about a minute and i see smoke in my house. I’m now very confused so i run to the kitchen to make sure nothing is burning there. All is OK. So, I run towards the back of the house to the dryer (trying to think of everything that could burn). At this point, I see smoke pouring out of our bedroom (which is adjacent to the dryer). I run back into the room and something (maybe a suitcase?) was ablaze. I guess that the suitcase had fallen onto or been placed on the electric heating vent (our cleaning people came today), or maybe a spark flew up and ignited it. The suitcase fire was large enough that I couldn’t handle it or smother it with a towel, so I immediately picked up my cellphone and dialed 911 (which worked just fine from my mobile phone!)

    While calling 911, i started looking for a fire extinguisher, which I know is in the house somewhere but I could not find it. When it was clear that I was not going to be able to do anything useful, I left the house.

    Fire response was pretty quick (i’m guessing 5-7 minutes, though it’s a blur), but our house is basically made of kindling, so it was over before it started. I have been through it very briefly, and it’s a war zone. Holes in the ceilings, walls charred and missing, windows blown out, flooded floor (the same kind neighbor loaned me flip flops).

    Fire department folks were nice enough. I called Holly and freaked her out when they first arrived, i called her back later, a bit more calm. “Official” folks (approved contractors) are going through the house now and boarding it up for security. Someone else is going through and trying to figure out what they can salvage (they’ll apparently be able to wash and clean my clothes–only the one load that I was folding in the front room). It won’t be much, as I mentioned. The fire department guy warned me that “restoration company reps” would be all over me like white on rice. Sure enough, 3 have already found me (one arrived and walked alongside me as I walked with my neighbor from my burned house to her house, after 1 AM). Amazing. Since we’re planning construction anyway, I probably won’t deal with any of them and will instead talk to the two GC’s that we were considering for construction…

    That’s the news for now. Email is best since I’m going to mobile and taking care of things, so please give me some time to get back to you.

    Much love in the burning night,