A Scary Night and My New Emergency Backpack

So in a very dark irony to this recent post title about updating my electrical at Berrybrier, my neighbor’s house caught on fire in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. We still don’t know the cause of the fire, but it was an extremely terrifying experience and definitely had some lingering effects on me…

I’d gone to bed around 10pm that night and fell asleep quickly as after work, I’d spent all evening cutting beadboard for my master bathroom in the driveway. Around 1:30am I rolled over in my sleep and gained just enough consciousness to realize it was raining. The raindrops were relatively persistent. This actually made me wake up even more as I’d left some beadboard in the driveway and the rain could seriously ruin the MDF. Ugh! I was annoyed at myself for not putting it away like I knew I should have, but it wasn’t actually supposed to rain! These thoughts of frustration woke me up further and I could tell through closed eyes that the room was pretty light out so it must be morning. At the same time I realized the sound I was hearing wasn’t quite raindrops. I opened my eyes.

My entire room was lit up red orange. I thought the wood I left in the driveway had caught fire and then caught my house or the garage. I didn’t know how that was possible, but it was my first thought. As i bounded over the pile of tools I’d left next to my bed, I could hear movement above me, which meant Jackie my roommate was awake too. By the time I’d clambered over my bed and over the pile of tools, grabbing some PJ pants and a bathrobe, I could see properly out my bedroom window that it wasn’t my house at all, but the neighbor’s house kitty corner behind us. And the flames were already 30 feet high.

I sprinted out of my room throwing on clothes along the way and shouted “Jackie!” She responded immediately, “I know! I’m on the phone with 911, I’ll get Bronwyn!” I was grabbing shoes at that point and ran for the backdoor, “Good! I bet someone’s already done that! I’m getting the hose!” Jackie knew better, her conversation describing the fire and location of it with the 911 operator wasn’t going well. “I don’t know what the street name is! It’s the street behind ours! If you come to us you’ll see the fire!” “Your location information isn’t helpful.” “I know! But that’s all I’ve got!”

Meanwhile I grabbed the hose from the front yard and sprinted through the brambles in my backyard to the far corner. The house from my perspective was hidden by 30 foot flames which were sneaking around the corner of the house towards a shed which was next to the fence line that backed on to my neighbor Erik’s property which also had a shed: squished on to the 12′ of space between the fence line and his garage full of 12 years of wood he’s collected from job sites. Erik and I shared a fence and that fence continued along the side of my garage. As I sprayed the corner of the fence line, I hoped my soaking would delay the violent, crackling flames by seconds, maybe a minute. I knew that if the fire continued to lick the side of their house and caught their shed, the whole fence line could go up, catching an exponential number of other things on fire.

As I soaked the corner of the fences, Jackie grabbed Bronwyn from her room and they both ran out of the house. Jackie grabbed some water bottles, asked Bronwyn to check on me, and walked briskly around the corner to the street behind ours. It wasn’t until Bronwyn was out of the house that she knew what was going on. The thirty foot flames were obvious from the front steps, whereas her street facing window hadn’t provided any context to the house behind ours. Jackie reached the neighbor’s street and thankfully they were all out of the house!

Bronwyn came to make sure I was a safe distance from the fire (which I was). Then she headed to Erik’s house which he rents to three young people, one of whom is our second cousin. No one appeared to be awake and if the fire caught the shed and fence line, Erik’s house wouldn’t be around for long. She pounded on their door, but no one answered. She quickly realized the front door was actually unlocked. She ran inside and up the stairs to pound on the bedroom doors, but still got no answer. Finally she screamed out our cousin’s name, “Carla!” And the three housemates woke up and realized someone wasn’t just messing around. Bronwyn got them all out of the house and that’s when the fire department arrived.

The fire department simultaneously arrived on both the street of our neighbor’s house and our street. Jackie met the first firefighter on the neighbor’s street and let him know the family was out of the house. They sent several fire fighters through the front gate to assess the fire. I was standing holding my hose by the fence when the first firefighters came through the neighbor’s yard. One of them yelled “Holy F***! That’s hot!” which was not exactly reassuring. The firefighters on our street thought the fire was at Erik’s house and started unloading ladders. Bronwyn was coming out of Erik’s house at this point and directed them to the 30 foot flames behind Erik’s house. They asked her to open his gate (she knew the padlock code) and she led them (and their hoses) around Erik’s house to the backyard where they sawzall’ed down the back fence between Erik’s property and our neighbor’s and opened up streams of water on the fire.

They arrived as the flames began licking at the shed and quickly forced the fire back. I turned off my hose and walked back to our house where I ran into Jackie who told me the neighbors were all safe. Thank goodness! There were four firetrucks on our street at this point and the firefighters directed the kids who live in Erik’s house to stand in front of our house as “people who are standing in front of their houses when they catch fire have a tendency to go back inside to get something.” They also told us to get any pets out of our house and to wait outside.

The firefighters arrived within 3-5 minutes of Jackie’s 1:38am call with seven total firetrucks and at least 30 firefighters. They had the fire under control within minutes of arriving, though it took them several hours to get out all embers and call it a night. I was extremely impressed by their response time and quick action against the fire. We were able to return to our house around 3:30am and Jackie, Carla, Bronwyn, and I sat upstairs in Jackie’s bed watching the firefighters walk the neighbors property, roofline, and house checking for hidden embers. We were completely hyped up on adrenaline. By 4:30am though, we called it a night and set up a bed for Carla on our living room sofa. We just wanted to all be together. The firefighters finished their work around the house by about 5am and most of the firefighters left before that.

The devastation of the house is obviously apparent, but more importantly, no one was hurt in the fire. The experience is one I hope to never go through again and I cannot even imagine what the family underwent. Thanks to a recent permit finalizing of the dormer, I had freshly installed carbon monoxide and smoke detectors throughout all three levels of Berrybrier. I feel good about that and I know the house is a lot safer now that the electrical is updated. I learned later that you typically only have 2 minutes to evacuate in house fires since homes are so flammable. This makes me want to run fire drills!

But, I wanted something else, something I could grab in an emergency when the fire department tells me to grab my pets and clear my house.  I know I should also put together a supply of emergency water in the basement soon too (we have plenty of food that could be eaten in an emergency) in case of an earthquake type emergency. My 13 years of girl scouting has taught me to be prepared if nothing else! My friend Claudia had an emergency backpack in college and I decided to make my own.

This is a just in case backpack, I hope to never need to grab. Ironically I’d donated an extra backpack I had lying around a few days before the fire, so I ended up buying a new backpack at the Columbia Employee Store. This one has a much larger capacity though, so that’s probably worth the $25. Online, they don’t have the moss + red colorway I bought and it costs a bit more that I paid, but it’s a great 25L bag! Inside the backpack I placed supplies in three categories: personal supplies, first aid, important documents, survival goods.

Here’s broken down lists of what I included as well!

Personal Supplies:

  • Shirt
  • Leggings
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Sandals
  • Sweatshirt
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Contact Solution and Case
  • Bar of Soap

First Aid:

  • Antibacterial / Itch / Pain Ointment
  • Bandaides
  • Roll of Gauze
  • Ibuprofen
  • Ace Bandage

Important Documents:

  • Printed PDF copies of my important / identification documents

Survival Goods:

  • Protein Bars
  • Two 2 Liter Bottles of Water
  • Matches
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Fleece Blanket

Can you believe I managed to squeeze that all into a $25 backpack? I was impressed too! Now this bag lives where I can easily grab it while running out of the house and gives me a bit more peace of mind. What’s been your experience with emergency situations? Did it encourage you to get more prepared?

Have you ever had a run in with a fire? Or know someone who’s house caught? What was the cause? What did you do to make yourself feel better about it afterwards? Did you put together an emergency plan? Am I overthinking this?! Let me know in the comments below!

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Entryway Action

I have a goal and a plan and I’m ready for action! This is the final push to get the entry whipped into shape! I have a Galentine’s Day Party planned for all the ladies in my life the weekend of the 11th. My goal is to finally complete the entry way so I can decorate it up for the party! I have some cute heart ornaments that just need a place to be hung.

So, why is it the final push? Because I’ve been secretly working on this for months, slowly chipping away at the mess that this area was when we moved in! If you recall, it looked like this to start:

The Duplex Moving In Tour | Land of Laurel

And when you first opened the front door you looked in at this:

The Duplex Moving In Tour | Land of Laurel

Whew! What a hot mess it was when we arrived! The entry’s one redeeming feature (besides the coat closet) is the little nook right next to the door. This is a great place for us to stash all our shoes and jackets when we first come home. Of course… is started out as a whole lot of nothing!

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Well, nothing, but an electrical panel, a light switch, and a heating vent. Lot’s of mechanical stuff going on in this spot! You may remember my original plan for this area. It included the following items, some of which are now complete:

  • Get seating for putting on/taking off shoes
  • console or buffet for mail/purses
  • Hang art/mirror and accessorize
  • Paint back wall to hide electrical box better?
  • Organize closet
  • Shoe storage!

Since October – when I came up with this plan of attack – I’ve been slowly getting ‘er done! First I got to work hanging a big old heavy mirror I got for free from work several years ago when it was delivered with a hefty scratch. I bought this 50 lb drywall anchor set from Home Depot for a few beans.

Hanging a Heavy Mirror | Land of Laurel

Once I marked my location (I was hanging the mirror high with the plan to eventually put a console table beneath it), hanging the mirror was really easy. I simply tapped the plastic anchor in with a nail first, then screwed it the remainder of the way into the wall.

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The two other pieces in the kit – a screw and a picture holder, fit into one another, and were then screwed into the plastic piece. Easy as pie.

50 lb Drywall Anchor | Land of Laurel

You know what was not easy? Lifting the heavy mirror up and hooking the wire onto the picture hook. Boy! That mirror was heavy! I enlisted the assistance of both my parents who happened to be visiting that weekend. By the time we hung the mirror, I’d also bought an ottoman! It was an impulse buy one morning on the bus. I only semi-regretted it after. And by semi-regretted I mean I realized it was definitely not my favorite option, but it was cheap. I looked it up to link to it in this post and found out it’s now available in cream! Ugh. Cream would have been a great option. Instead I ended up with the cherry red. When I bought it, the ottoman was only available in red or black leather. I have an intense dislike of black leather furniture unless it’s on task chairs, so I went with the red option. I may reupholster it with some extra fabric I got for free from work. We’ll see… For now, let’s concentrate on the positives of this ottoman. A) I got it for a heavily discounted price. B) It opens up and becomes a huge storage ottoman! C) It’s deep enough to provide seating space while still being tucked under a shallow table, so I don’t need to drag it out to open it.

Progress in the Entry | Land of Laurel

Being quite the spend-it-all-at-once-er I also bought an indoor/outdoor rug at about the same time. I picked one that was made of polypropylene because it would hide the dirt and I could take it in the backyard and hose it off if it got really dirty. The rug itself is also heavily textured with the heathered dark parts of the rug being flatwoven and about 1/8″ below the height of the light part of the rug design. I wanted something that would make the silly transition between the sheet vinyl and LVT floors less obvious. The sheet vinyl part of the entry is 4′ x 7′ and rug I bought was 3′-9″ by 5′-8″ so it covers almost the entire entry area. Then on an IKEA trip I stumbled upon some welcome mats. Most of the mats at the store said “Welcome” in English, but I spotted one that said “Willkommen” which is the German translation. Being the Germanophile I am, I snapped it up instantly and stood over my cart like a mama dog protecting her babies. I took it home and paired it with the larger black and white rug for a modern look. Having this mat inside helps keep things even cleaner, especially since we do not have any outdoor overhang! Jacks was so excited about the rug, he even posed with it for Instagram (yes this was 3 months ago).

Kitten Door Mat | Land of Laurel

With the hanging of the mirror and the purchase of the rugs and ottoman, this entry had a completely different look and feel. Thank goodness! It wasn’t done yet – no there was lots left to do – but, progress had been made and the space was starting to feel like home. Plus I finally had a place to store my shoes (the ottoman!) and a place to sit while putting on my shoes (the ottoman!). No more hopping around on one foot like a clumsy flamingo!

Entry Progress | Land of Laurel

Now that my clumsy flamingo days were over, I also wanted a place to hang my purse and any wet coats (have you heard that it rains here in Portland, OR?). I inherited some pretty reclaimed wood planks from a friend a while back. I pulled one out that looked to be about the right size; its gorgeously beat up and has some paint still staining it. I love old wood (wink wink! No, gross! Bad joke! I take it back.).  Then I picked up some of these painted square tile hooks from World Market.

DIY Coat Rack | Land of Laurel

I laid them out on top of the wood plank on my dining table and spaced them out until they were even to the eye, before marking their location with a pen. Then I drilled shallow holes in the wood to allow for the screws.

DIY Coatrack | Land of Laurel

I finished it off by screwing the hooks onto the board. (Is it just me or did that sound dirty too?)

DIY Coatrack | Land of Laurel

I finished it off (oh my god, why does this sound so bad?!) by drilling holes at the middle of each end of the board and taking two 2″ screws to fasten it into the studs in the entry. The coatrack looks cute and holds my purse quite nicely!

DIY Coatrack | Land of Laurel

Now, why stop there when there’s so much more to do in this room?! If you scroll all the way up to the first picture in this post, you’ll see a weird box on the wall. What is it? I have no idea. Why is it there? To annoy me. How do I fix it? Classic answer: a gallery wall.

Entry Gallery Wall | Land of Laurel

Boom! A few pieces of art and now that box isn’t quite so obvious. Here is my map of England, a fun and funky art piece my Aunt Pat found, and a print I bought at a Museum in Milan. This entry has so many walls, I still need to add art to several spots! This is a good start though. Overall, I’m feeling good, because this entry is looking so much nicer!

Entry Progress | Land of Laurel

A vast improvement over the before, I just have to say!

The Duplex Moving In Tour | Land of Laurel

Oh! That before picture makes me realize another couple of quick updates. See that ugly carpet sticking out under the door? Ripped out. Goodbye gross! The cheap mirror on the closet door didn’t even last through the first week in the Duplex. There are some things I can’t change – the yellow brown moldings, the door, etc, but in a rental, sometimes you gotta take what you can get! What’s on the horizon for this space? Lot’s of final touches, but first, a custom console. You may have seen this sneakpeek pic on Instagram a few weeks ago when I was test fitting my furniture build:

Console Prep | Land of Laurel

I’m still working on the final touches of that piece, but the goal is to knock that out this week and begin accessorizing and putting more art up next weekend. Wish me luck!

Do you have anything you’re working on that has a fast approaching deadline? Does that make you panic? Or work harder? Or both?! Let me know what you’ve been up to in the comments!

Safer Shower

My shower curtain started to disintegrate. Yay! How happy this made me. Not. I was not pleased. However, this gave me an opportunity to get a more eco-friendly alternative without feeling guilty for swapping my old one out.

 

One of the biggest toxins no one talks about?  Vinyl. Polyvinyl chloride, PVC, (or as it’s more commonly known: vinyl) is a type of plastic that is rather toxic. It’s toxic during the manufacturing process, leading to the release of many chemicals into the air and water streams. It’s toxic when it’s in your environment, releasing chemicals that are harmful to reproductive organs, cause breast cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption. As well as being toxic after we finish with these products and dump them into the landfill where they will stay for millions of years, leeching more of these chemicals into their surroundings. The main ingredient in vinyl that is so terrible is one of the plasticizers that gives plastic that flexible characteristic: phthalates. There are two kinds of phthalates, ortho-phthalates and terra-phthalates. The adverse health affects of ortho-phthalates are more known and they are, although legal, increasingly more regulated by private companies such as Home Depot. Basically, although many companies and government agencies are aware of these horrific affects of this toxin (and the many other chemicals that compose vinyl), it is sadly, still not illegal. Vinyl is heavily used throughout the toy, construction, any many other industries.  My personal theory is that vinyl will become the next asbestos. But I am not a scientist, I’m just guessing. I may be way off, but until proven otherwise, I make efforts to avoid vinyl.

 

Basically, my old shower curtain was vinyl and I wanted a much healthier replacement. The LA Times even wrote an article on the toxins associated with vinyl shower curtains. We’re talking liver cancer, nervous system damage, nausea. I wanted something that I could breathe a little easier around! I hoped for a waxed organic cotton liner, but I had difficulty sourcing one in the short time frame I accidentally caused for myself (I tossed my shower curtain liners before actually purchasing new ones… oops!).

 

My search led me to Target where I ultimately purchased two of these Threshold Shower Curtain Liners  (one for either side of the clawfoot bathtub). At $18 each, they were not the cheapest liners. But they’re made of polyester which doesn’t release the type of vicious toxins that vinyl does.  Although I still wish I could find some in cotton, these made a good alternative for now. Next time I’ll do my research before tossing the old liners!

 

Shower Curtain Liner | Land of Laurel

 

As for how the polyester fabric holds up to water compared to vinyl, I have not noticed a difference! These new liners keep all the water in just as well as the more plastic-y feeling vinyl curtains did (an important thing when you have a clawfoot bathtub/stand up shower and wood bathroom trim!). Plus they look and feel so much better!

 

Polyester Shower Curtain | Land of Laurel

 

Overall, I am so happy with this purchase! The liners look great, I feel better about their chemical make up, and they’re just a little bit wider than my old curtains keeping more water in! The bathroom is coming along now (you may notice I’ve hung some art!). I’ll have some finishing touches to share and then I can call this room done!

 

Is anyone else terrified by the adverse affects of chemicals in vinyl? Anyone know where to get a good wax-coated cotton shower curtain liner?