Friday, December 13, 2013

10 Tips for a Successful Family Ski Trip

After marrying a skier and spending seven years as a ski parent, I've developed quite a nice list of tips for a successful family ski trip. Ski trips are so much fun, but they can be terrifying to an unfamiliar parent whose wondering how old is old enough, what do I really need to do or pack, and is it worth the money? I've learned through my experiences as well as tips from my in-laws, who just happen to be the parents of three-time Olympic alpine skier Erik Schlopy (my husband) and NCAA champion Keri Schlopy Crockett (my sis-in-law). Skiing is so much different than my native swimming. The biggest difference is the equipment. Equipment is bigger, heavier, and way more important in skiing. Just thinking about the task can be daunting, but hopefully with my tips, it'll be just a little easier for you to not only survive but thrive on the hill.

  1. Choose the mountain that fits your family. Size doesn’t always matter. Some of the best ski racers were raised on the smallest ski hills so don’t worry about finding the biggest resort. Oftentimes, smaller resorts are more family friendly & make a smaller dent in your wallet. Our family goes to Deer Valley. It’s 13 minutes from our house and has the best kids trails, like Bucky’s Backyard. There are great options for families all around the country, just do a little research. And if your family is just starting out, these are less expensive and much more manageable. Forbes list 12 Ski Resort Vacations for Every Budget
  2. Weather is by far the most important factor with small children! I realize that you can’t control the weather and that you’ve already paid for your vacation, but be aware of the temperatures and the wind. If it’s bitter cold or dumping snow, make run decisions accordingly so that your kids continue to love the sport of skiing. Ski for shorter periods of time, take the shorter runs, and enjoy lots of hot cocoa breaks. In the end, only getting a quarter or half day on the mountain and loving it will be worth more than trying to cram a full day in and being miserable later.
Read Tips 3-10 HERE on my Semi-Chlorinated Life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life: Unattainable Christmas List

My daughter is asking Santa for a puppy, and many other unattainable Christmas presents.

Here’s the whole story. We lost our family dog, Smalls, three years ago. Smalls was my pet. I’d had him for 14.5 years, and he was a loving, ever-hungry beagle (of course, I only remember his good side). The kids appear to get so sad when we talk about him, although sadly, they didn’t really know him. But I don’t say that to them; I just smile and brace myself for what I know they are going to say next. “Can we please get a dog?!”

They ask this at least five times a day, and have for quite some time. I have explained on multiple occasions that we do want another dog and that we will get one, but we have to slow down our travel first. I try to help them understand that dogs don’t like it when their owners are gone, that they like routine. And finally, after hearing me explain our reasons for waiting for the umpteenth time, that’s when my daughter said, “Fine. I am gonna ask Santa for a puppy!”

Hold the phone! Can she do that? I was looking for a referee to throw a flag! No ref. No flag. Just me, my daughter … and Santa.

In response, I told her that Santa couldn't deliver live animals. . . Read the rest and find out why I'm the "best hooker ever" on my Semi-Chlorinated Life babble voices blog.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life: Why Athletes Make the Comeback

It happens to many of us: We hang up our competitive uniform and swear we won't step back into it, but then there’s a comeback…

There are many reasons why an athlete makes a comeback, and they are different for every person. Barry Sanders left at the height of his NFL career, leaving us all wanting more, but he never stepped foot on that field again. Jordan retired as #23, but came back as #45. And now Michael Phelps has “left the door open” by returning to the U.S. Olympic Drug Testing pool. Why, that’s the question… why does an athlete choose to come back? The only person I can speak about is myself, so I will, and maybe it will fuel a conversation amongst other retired athletes that will help those dealing with the word “retirement” at such a young age.

I retired in December of 1993 during my senior year at Stanford. For the first time in the history of my swimming career, I asked myself why I was pushing myself so hard and I didn't have an answer. I was in the middle of a morning workout, the sun had yet to come up, and it was a tough set. I'd reached that critical point in the middle of the 50 meter pool where I had to self motivate, to dig deeper like I had done about a million times before. And I questioned it. Why was I doing this? And that’s when I knew I was done. In my sport, like many others, you cannot be wishy-washy when it comes to training. You have to be tough every moment of every practice because it’s that fostered toughness you call upon when you need it most and your race is on the line...

Read the rest of Why Athletes Make the Comeback here on Semi-Chlorinated Life

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life: Are my kids too busy?

I love the endless opportunity our kids have, but do you ever wonder if our kids are too busy? Don't get me wrong, I am a Title IX baby and relish every opportunity available to my daughter and my son. When I was little I wanted to play soccer, but there wasn't a girls’ team, so I watched my brother. And then I found swimming, thank goodness I loved it because I am not really sure what else was out there for me to do (other than cheerleading which I learned in 9th grade was not for me).

My kids, on the other hand, can't seem to fit all their activities into a 24/7 week. I have already written a lot about about “fighting for my kids' free time” in a another blog about keeping it all together as a parent, but I feel like I am losing the fight. And frankly, maybe “fight” is too strong of a word. Maybe I am just their lobbyist or advocate. I feel like I need to picket outside their bedrooms just to remind them how cool an afternoon of make-believe and play can be . . .

Read the rest on my Semi-Chlorinated Life babble blog

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life -- 26.2: NYC Marathon

I am not gonna lie, I was nervous — or maybe it was more like anxious — about the 26.2 miles in front of me. Either way, I was losing sleep leading up to the ING NYC Marathon. Mostly I was hoping that everything felt right, that I didn’t get sick, and that I would run it smart. I wanted to feel as great as one can at the end.
The day started when it was still dark out, with only a few people walking along the midtown streets of NY. All these people had one thing in common: they were all carrying a bib and a plastic bag heading toward their transportation to Staten Island. I just kept to myself on the street until I met up with my Runner’s World crew. And what an amazing group! If you’ve ever had the good fortune to be in the company of Bart Yasso, then you know the amazing energy he gives off. We all woke up a bit when Bart walked in, and that is when it hit me: I am really doing this. This event that I last experienced 11 years ago was about to happen. . .

Friday, November 1, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life: Why I Sign Up for Races

It’s easy to realize why I sign up for races. I started competing at the age of 4…Oh wait…I started competing once I realized I was competitive and had a brother. Those 2 things, competition and my brother, were key ingredients to the beginning of my swimming career. I wanted to be right there with my brother, doing whatever he and his friends were doing, and keeping up with them every step of the way. Much of the time, he wouldn't let me join in, which made me work even harder for it. When you are born competitive and raised competitive, the juices never really stop flowing through your system. Sure the flow can slow, as it did after my competitive swimming career, but it never really dries up. And that is why I race now.
In the beginning, I was a afraid to sign up for any race because I wasn't sure I could keep myself from turning into super competitive Summer. . .Read the rest about why I race on my Semi-Chlorinated Life babble blog.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Semi-Chlorinated Life: Sport Teaches Amazing Lessons

Sport can teach so many amazing lessons. And this story will demonstrate just why that’s what it’s really all about.

A seven-year-old smiled her nervous self through all four apparatus in her first gymnastics meet of the season. Her mom could tell she was nervous because before each event, she would look at her coach with these bright excited eyes and take a deep breath with a little chuckle, it’s the way she handles that stuff. She soaked up every single cheer from her teammates, and she put every ounce of her little body into everything she did. And SHE WAS PROUD. Her parents were up in the stands cheering, clapping, and catching her eye to give her a thumbs-up. She would look at her scores and her eyes would light up because she was so much better than last year. She repeatedly counted out her score on her fingers just so her parents could really see what she had just accomplished. She congratulated her teammates, and her teammates did the same to her. The camaraderie was amazing to watch.

All the while, her mom kept thiking about what her daughter said to her the night before this meet. While readying for bed, the little girl had said, “I am so excited to win a ribbon or a medal tomorrow.” Her mom wanted to prepare for all possible outcomes so she gently replied, “You know, not everyone will get a ribbon so if you want one, you have to think about all the little things and try to do them your absolute best. But no matter what, daddy and I are SO incredibly proud of you because you have been working so hard. You have truly dedicated yourself.” She smiled. She was already proud of herself, and she didn't seem worried. . .

Read the rest of this blog and learn Skye's lesson at Semi-Chlorinated Life

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My 10 Favorite Running Destinations

The moment I hung up my competitive swimsuit, I grabbed a pair of running shoes. At the time, I didn't even know I was supposed to have a separate shoe just for running. I didn't really think about switching to running or becoming a runner, I just ran. I ran with my girlfriends around the Stanford University campus. We fondly call it “The Campus Loop,” and it’s about four miles. Since then, I have run wherever my job has taken me. I’ve run at least 50 times around Orlando, Florida during my time hosting Figure It Out, at least once through every NBA city exploring while filming Inside Stuff, and on five continents while traveling for the Olympic Games, doing charity work, or covering events for the Today Show. There is no better way to see a city or get to know your surroundings than by slipping on your running shoes and putting your soles to the pavement!

With all that legwork under me, I thought I'd share a little exploring insight. Here are my 10 favorite running destinations. . .


Scotland: The Highland Way.  We learned a lot about this trail while we were camping in the Highlands in Scotland.  My number 10 destination is Scotland's premiere walking route and can be accessed via path at almost every stop along the scenic way. The scenery is so raw and beautiful. And the 96mile trail has various paths along it's route, and hosts an annual race. I'm putting that one on my bucket list.  

Check out destination 1-9 on my Semi-Chlorinated Life blog.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Back at the FARM

Twenty-three years later, and yet in many ways, it felt like yesterday. September on the Stanford campus is quite amazing, and not just for the weather, it’s the vibe.  I have said to many people, “Don’t send your kids on a trip to visit Stanford unless you are prepared to send them there.” The campus is extraordinary, such a tremendous amount of history at every turn, both in its architecture and its influence.  I was back at the Farm this past weekend, bringing my kids for the first time, so they could help me relive those special Stanford student moments all over again.

I must admit it was amazing! My kids don’t quite get it, and I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to worry about them turning TREE crazy just yet.  For me, it was literally a stroll down memory lane, from the swim pool to Campus Drive, around the stadium and to the Bookstore. Every single one of these places brought a smile to my face, it’s just special and I recognized it. It’s not just the geography and the scenery, it’s also the people.  In between corralling my kids, I had a chance to watch students, both new and upper classmen.  I saw parents dropping their kids off or walking the student union in awe of the moments as the first year at any college/university is amazing beyond words.  The older students were walking with such purpose.

My move-in moment went like this…I loaded my car and along with my best friend, Heather, and my parents, drove the 2.5 hours from Roseville, CA, south down to Palo Alto.  My freshman dorm was Otero in the Wilbur dorm cluster.  As it was 1990, our awesome furniture was from pre-World War II.  It was solid steel, which meant I couldn't come close to moving it, and it had a fabulous green tint to it.  It was my first space, and half of the room stood as an empty canvas.  Thank goodness I had my MJ posters to work their magic. 
I made use of every square inch of my little abode and with a few tears, said goodbye to my mom, dad and Heather. Scary to think about it now as that moment is a VERY defining moment in my life.  It’s like a crazy cocktail of extreme sadness and utter excitement with a healthy splash of anxiety. WOW, my first moment as a Stanford student brings a few tears to my eyes even now. 

I survived freshman year, barely, thank the lord for swimming. I was in WAY over my head academically, or at least I thought I was, as I just didn't seem to have the courage in the classroom the way I had them in the pool or high school.  Everyone around me was just so damn amazing!! I didn’t room with a swimmer, although Karen did join the water polo team and was super dedicated. Stanford makes it a point to pool all freshmen together for random pairings.  So, it was only by chance if an athlete roomed with an athlete during their first year.  And every weekend, it was all about Stanford football.  We had “Touchdown Tommy”, John Lynch, Glynn Milburn and Steve Stenstrom to name a few.  We had reasons to cheer, and no matter how hard practice was that Saturday morning, we were there for our team on game day.  The seats were wooden and the stadium was not quite as posh as some others, but we didn’t care. It was all about the power of that single letter “S” and being as loud as we could.

On game day this past Saturday, I looked up into the stands and watched the freshmen looking to their upperclassmen for some game cheering guidance.  They have now named the student section, “Nerd Nation”, and those nerds make some noise. It was beautiful college football noise that makes a difference in the game, and it was much louder than my era. (Sorry nerds of the ‘90’s) I was on the field watching the team that I had just spoken to three hours before as their honorary captain, they were getting focused, ready and amped out of their heads.  I felt small.  And I was.  Kids are bigger now…seriously, I said to coach Shaw, “When you introduced me and the team stood up, I felt like a toddler.” Impressive not just in stature, but in the level of respect they show to everyone, themselves included.  I was curiously nervous to talk to the fellas wondering how a 40-year-old mom of two could relate to the incredible Stanford student-athlete of today.  My 7 minutes in front of the guys flew by way too fast.  I wanted to tell them so much more than I did, and when I was done my hands were shaking. I could barely hold myself steady as many of them came up to give me a hug. And that is when it hit me. 

Respect.  Once you wear that Stanford “S”, it doesn’t matter what year it was, how old you are, or how many kids you've popped out, you can transport yourself right back to that stage of life like a superhero. Yep, for about five glorious hours, I was a 19-year-old Stanford swimmer cheering on my football team. Only this time, I was on the sidelines fist pumping those giant men after a great play.  Pinch me now…I still don't believe it.
 I reminisced and loved it.

The end result of my Stanford weekend was a first half on the field, a second half in the stands with my family, and a Sunday morning to soak it all up. And I sopped it up like a full stack of pancakes with pure maple syrup.  Every sweet moment I could take in on campus I did, and it made me love Stanford even more.  It made me cherish that time in my life. Every memory still brings such joy to my face and a giggle in my heart. Magical moments that I will never forget and maybe some day my kids will fully understand.  Maybe. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rookie Sport Parent

Striving for completely slicked back hair.


Rookie sport parent

I may be an “expert” in swimming, but due to the time I spent acquiring that title, I’m quite clueless on how other sports work and train…which makes me like every other parent…Olympian or not. I am a full-on rookie sport parent, and I’m loving every second of it.  Well, sort of…

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to reality: Back to School



For many, school is starting back up. It’s amazing how time flies when you are having fun, right?! And yet for parents, back to school is often a welcome reintroduction to schedules and structure…a.k.a reality.
Here is how getting ready for back to school goes down in our house . . .
About a month from the first day of school, I go through the kids entire closet and force them (yes FORCE because they never want to do it) to try on every ounce of clothing.  We make three piles:
    closet cleanout clothes pile
  1. The “giveaway” – clothes that no longer fit or liked.
  2. “I am not sure” – clothes that fit but are not worn or the kids aren’t sure they’ll wear.
  3. “I’ll definitely wear” – clothes that fit and the kids wear.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Babble -- Semi-Chlorinated Life: Lessons in Parenting, Sports and Life

I have been a Babble fan for a long time.  Many of my friends have contributed, and so this a proud day for me. I finally have a Babble Voice. In life, I have a few major skills I can fall back on.  Swimming is the obvious, but my true skills are a) the ability to detect the presence of any pool within 1000 yards — I am like a beagle on a chicken bone when it comes to the scent of chlorine.  For most of my life, it was my perfume whether I liked it or not – And b) my experiences and the many people I’ve met along this journey we call life that have shared their knowledge with me. My wealth of knowledge isn’t all that astounding, but I have learned a lot about sports, parenting, healthy living, and  life and continue to learn more everyday! And that is why I am so proud to be contributing to Babble.

Now, let’s lay this thing out.  I plan on writing about things I know, things I think I know, things I know I need help with (with a little help from my expert friends), and things that I find so hilarious, they just have to be shared.  Here is how it will break down…find the beat…
  • Healthy Living-Everything In Moderation
  • Organization- Simplifying Chaos
  • Parenting- Authentic and Imperfect
  • Sporting Life- Mama loves her football and running, and watching the kiddos play.
Read the rest of this post on babble in my babble voices blog -- Summer Sanders: Semi-Chlorinated Life.

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to Host a Successful Yard Sale: Tips from Trish Suhr

I just read that this weekend is the weekend of the "Worlds Longest Yard Sale" and although I don't live along the 127 corridor, I thought it was just about time to consider holding my own since a) I just cleaned out my garage and b) I have a daughter who loves everything about a yard sale. But I wanted to go to a pro to really get the tips to make it worth make while and have everything click on sale day. So to help me out, I had a chat with Trish Suhr, the Emmy Award winner from Clean House who’s been making us laugh for decades all while helping us clean up our act.

But before we get into the seven tips from Trish, there was one thing I had to know. What exactly do we call this it a yard sale, a garage sale, a sidewalk sale and estate sale? Everywhere I go, people seem to call it something different. Here's what we deciphered: it's called a Yard Sale in the south and midwest; a Garage Sale in the cold areas or anywhere you just rolled up the garage door and use it like a pop-up store; a Side Sale if it's held in the city on a sidewalk; and an Estate Sale, according to Trish, “If you have real nice shit.”

Moments of purge are great, and when you're feeling ready to get rid of stuff that that's the perfect time to have a yard sale, but sometimes the idea of making it happen is daunting and overwhelming. That's where this blog and Trish's expertise come in.

How to Host a Successful Yard Sale: Tips from Trish
  1. Get a clutter buddy, but don’t use your spouse. Choose someone who can talk you off your crazy ledge. If you do it buy yourself, it's likely you will get overwhelmed and you will not finish.
  2. Start your clean-out in your catch-all space. Determine where you tend to throw, store, pile stuff and make that the first room you tackle. For most people it’s the garage, or the largest, most unused space in your home. You tackle this room first so as you’re offloading clutter from other areas of your house, you have somewhere to put it.
  3. Create areas of Keep, Sell, Trash. Seperate the areas significantly, and make them larger than signle bins. As the cleanout continues, the piles will become larger than a single bin and make the sorting easier. 
    1. KEEP items should have a place of honor in your house, and a place to be put right away or it’s not keep. And to continue the decluttering, take it into the house, and put it away.
    2. TRASH items are defined as anything that's not going to make you money or move your stuff along. Be sure to pay attention to what can be recycled properly, and do so.  Simply search local recycling to find a list. As a note, despite the want you can’t sell half empty cans of paint, and it’s illegal to sale knifes, mattresses and child car seats. 
    3. SELL items are everything else.
  4. Select a date and time. Consider your community calendar to set the best date and time for your sale. Yard Sale season for most of the country is April-October. The best time frame is between 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. And Saturdays are usually the better day.
  5. Make Signage.  Use traditional signs, social media and craigslist to promote your yard sale. Set and post the signage on Friday afternoon & Saturday morning, then remove it on Sunday. For signs:
    1. In Neighborhood...Use only neon poster board and write with a thick marker. You can also add some plan helium balloons for around $5 to leave a trail through the neighborhood, people will follow. Use buzz words outlining what you have to sell.
    2. Online....Post the yard sale Thursday, Friday and Saturday to make sure it's appears at the top of the list, include your address and buzz words. Be sure to post pictures and name big ticket items. Simply snap a few on your phone, and add them to your post.
  6. Set up your yard sale like a Department store. Organization will make your sale more attractive and function better. Set up tables and areas just like you'd see in a store with designated areas of kitchen/bath, electronics, apparel, furniture, etc. Then arrange the areas by size, product, and so on. When you feel like you, yourself, would stop your car for this sale, you’re ready. Be sure to put at least one big ticket item on the outside that has curb appeal.  
  7. Run the sale smoothly. Wear a "money pack", a much better way to think of the fanny pack, with $300 cash in 1s, 5s, 10s. Don’t use coins, they make things difficult. If you have items marked for for $.50, suggest an additional item for an even dollar. 
    1. Have only one cashier so everyone know where to go, and set them up toward the end of the driveway.
    2. Use stickems, color or label, to designate items from different people if you're hosting a multiple family yard sale. This will allow you to know whom the sell belongs too, and who to check for prices.
    3. Place purchases in a bag...great use for leftover grocery bags. It helps people carry things, and denotes a sale. According to Trish,  "It's a nice way of saying ‘hey heifer did you steal,' because when a yard sale gets really busy people just walk off with stuff.”
    4. Provide a gift with purchase. Little things make your customers happy, even in your driveway. Provide something small for kids, like stickers, to help entertained while moms shop. Give that job to your kid during sale so their engaged as well. Other options are small drinks such as lemonade or capri-sun.
  8. Know the art of the sale.  There are Haggling Rules, and knowing them makes the sale much easier. Suhr's personal philosophy is to price the BIG ticket items with what you genuinely believe the value is. Then suggest buyers make a pile, and negotiate the total price. 
    1. Lower your prices at 11 a.m. to move your items. 
    2. Mark sold items with blue painters tape (safe for everything) so that people know what's no longer available.
    3. Provide customer service, even in your own lawn. Smiles, honesty and thanks go a long way.
  9. Schedule a post sale charity pick-up. A lot of charities will happily send a truck to pick-up any  unsold items at the end of your yard sale. So you don’t carry around this clutter after all your work, call a week prior to your sale and let them know you will have a donation 1 hour after the end of your sale. Just google “Charity Home pick-up” for a list in your area. 
    1. If you donate anything over $500, or combined worth of $500, take a picture for tax purposes. It's a requirement as of January 2013.
After you've completed your sale, your load will be lightened and you'll feel so accomplished.

  • Don't: Have a sale on a holiday weekend. People have other things to do.
  • Do: Make sure you have at least one or two big ticket items to attract customers.
  • Don't: Put stuff on the ground. It’s worth 75% less than your asking for it if you have to bend down for it.
  • Do: Hang your clothes with a spritz of febreeze to increase the value
  • Do: Clean your kids toys. To move kids stuff and kids toys – 5&under, spray them down with a lawn hose and hit them with white vinegar. Clean will double its value. 
  • Don't: Tell a customer something works when it has issues. They're buying something from your house and know where you live. 
  • Do: Mark “as-is” and be truthful when you’re selling.
  • Do: Run a powerstrip outside so people can test and make sure items work.

Friday, July 26, 2013

World Championships in Barcelona & Contests

My first and only World Championships was in Perth, Australia, in January of 1991.  I had no idea I had hit the jackpot of locations until years later.  What a magnificent place with a tremendous love and respect for the sport of swimming.  Aussies are magical sport fans, and they worship their swimmers.  The pool was outside, and beer was flowing in the stands. The crowd was excited and rowdy, all of which fed us swimmers and made us swim faster.  It was really only my third big meet, and I started it off with the 400 IM where I won the bronze medal, fighting Australia’s Hayley Lewis and China’s Lin Li to the finish.  Then the my 200 IM, where Li and I again were in a battle and I took home the silver.  And finally, on the last day, I had my best event.  I remember feeling like I was literally flying over the water in my 200 fly.  It was a perfect night with my whole family in the stands, and as I touched the wall, I turned around to look at the scoreboard, saw I had won, shot my fist in the air with a huge scream and smile, and then awkwardly changed it to a thumb’s up with my tongue out.  I will never forget how exciting that moment was.  I felt like I had made it. It was a huge stepping stone for me with only a year and a half to the Barcelona Games.

And now, the World Championships are being held in Barcelona, where I won my Olympic gold 21 years ago. And while the Olympic Games are in a category all their own, World Championships are a close second, and they showcase the best and certainly let the world know who to watch in the water.  This will be the first major swim meet in a long while that we will watch without Mr. Michael Phelps. It is a bit sad knowing the pool will be missing the best swimmer of all time, but he left his mark and built the sport up so much that it is now truly a platform for the swimming leaders of today.

There are many personalities that will shine without Michael absorbing the spotlight. So watch for these Olympians you fell in love with from London last summer…Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, NathanAdrian, and more. And besides the big names, be prepared to be introduced to some new faces, who will experience a moment like I did in 1991. I can think of one butterflier that is itching to make his mark. Those new faces experiencing that exciting moment, the rush and the results that show world the are contenders and that their Olympic moment is next on the list…turning their lifelong dream into a real, achievable goal.

You can catch the action on Universal Sports and NBC from July 28-Aug. 4. Check your local listings for time and channel. 

In honor of world championships being held in a city near & dear to my heart, I’m holding a daily contest on my Facebook Fan page to get fans one step closer to the action by showing our support for the sport and spreading some great Speedo gear in the swimming community. Here’s a link to the “Back in Barcelona Contest” tab, which will be updated daily with contests and prizes. Prizes will include Speedo shirts, hats and goggles, a Ryan Lochte giftbag, a world championships goodie bag, and the grand prize of a Speedo racing swimsuit! First contest is already posted: Day1 – Show your Team USA Spirit by filming your best team cheer with Instagram, tagging it TeamUSA_BCN2013, and uploading it to the contest page. The best cheer wins a World Championships goodie bag, similar to that provided to the Speedo sponsored athletes of Team USA. Here's an example. Go USA!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rebuilding and Recovering: How to deal with a house fire

Rebuilding and Recovering
How to deal with a house fire and total loss of belongings from two people who have walked in those shoes.

In the wake of the recent tragedies in California, Arizona, and Colorado, my mind has been on fire and loss. I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of the 19 firefighters in Arizona who lost their lives trying to save the lives and livelihoods of others; they were brave and heroic. And I want to I pay tribute to all those firefighters who risk their lives to help, protect, and rescue throughout this great country. You are true American heroes and we are forever grateful.

This time last summer as wildfires blazed in Colorado, I offered up my dad’s guidance to some friends who had lost their homes.  Sadly, once again Colorado and other areas are in a very similar scenario. Those circumstances prompted me to ask my father and his girlfriend if I could interview them about their experience, about our loss -- we lost almost everything -- and use the notes so others could learn from their loss.  They were kind enough to say yes. Here is their story.

Sanders family home burning
My father’s house burnt down on June 7, 2007. It was six years ago, and we both remember it plainly. I was in Roseville visiting with my daughter. I was pregnant with my son, and I had just welcomed everyone to the 10th Annual Summer Sanders Invitational Swim Meet at Woodcreek High School when I got a call from my dad’s girlfriend Cathy.  She said, “Summer, your dad’s house is on fire!”  I quickly said, “OK.  We will leave now.”  My father was with me at the meet, but we weren’t too concerned, at least not until someone pointed beyond my shoulder and said, “Is that your dad’s house?”  There was a huge plume of black smoke that was hundreds, if not thousands of feet in the air.  I immediately thought, “No, that can’t be my dad’s house.” 

About 15 minutes into our 30-minute drive home, we got another call from Cathy.  “Summer, the fire department says they can’t save the house.  Summer, his house is gone.”  I gently shared this news with my dad who was driving, and his first response was, “Well, I am glad I didn’t fold the laundry in the dryer.” It took awhile for the shock to wear off and the news to settle in.  He had his car, the clothes on his back, his tennis racquet and a dirty towel.  That was it.  My childhood was gone, my home, my photos, my Olympic flag, even my MJ "good luck note" - almost everything but my Olympic medaks went up in flames. But all he focused on was that everyone, even the cat, was safe.  All the grandkids were at my brother’s house for dinner, and Cathy and my mom, who was also visiting, were there as well.  No one was injured, and the fire didn’t spread.  But the house was a “total loss.”  According to the firemen, it was one of the hottest fires Placer County had ever seen.  And it started because the people staining my dad’s house put the stain can with the rags in the trashcan.  Instantaneous combustion is a real thing, and we found out first hand.

Believe it or not, Cathy has been through this twice.  Once from an electrical arc in the ceiling at a previous house, and this her second house fire. (She had just moved in with my dad a few months prior.)

What my dad and Cathy learned about preparing and recovering, I’d like to share with you in the form of tips from their advice.

Dad's home rebuilt, 2-years later
10 Tips for Rebuilding and Recovering from a House Fire
  1. Make sure you understand your policy.  Your insurance is your responsibility. Pay special attention to the living expenses you are guaranteed while rebuilding, meaning you want to make sure you are allotted an appropriate amount that will pay for rent in a home comparable to the home that was affected. Guard yourself for the worst-case scenario.  And make sure to cover all personal content…especially collections, collectable items and antiques. 
  2. Document your possessions. Photograph and videotape everything you own and store it in a separate location! Everything from pencils to cars is covered. 
  3. Call an insurance agent right away. An agent can come out and be your advocate.  They will think of things that you won’t be able to think of in the moment.  They should call you and/or come out right away.  They will give you a checklist and come armed with your policy, which you should also examine to make sure you accurately understand how you are covered. Call your mortgage company, garbage, utilities, phone/cable/internet and water to put all payments on hold. They should work with you on future payments, and your insurance policy might even help pay for your mortgage payments so be sure to ask when you’re looking thru your policy with a fine-tooth comb. 
  4. Ask friends and family to help. When you are allowed back into the property, you should call upon your friends. Friends are important at this stage because they will help you sort through/recover the things you need, and,if you have children, they can help take care of the kids so they do not have to see the devastation.
  5. Make a list of important items to recover. The list should include such items as documents (passports, birth certificates, deeds, stock certificates), jewelry, mementos and anything else that could be stolen. (My dad had some money stashed in his high school letterman jacket that he didn’t recover fast enough, and both the jacket and the money were gone without a trace.) Do this room by room, and track your steps.
  6. Form a system for recounting every single item in your home.  This system should take the form an “inventory list.” This is the most daunting process because you have to think of every little thing you owed and every detail so that you are compensated appropriately.  What helped my family was a Sears Catalog.  Cathy looked through this to jog her memory of all the things she had from electrical cords and tools to kitchenware and appliances. And don’t rush it. Take this in steps and tackle one room a week because it’s really important that these are thorough.
  7. Be aware of Depreciation. Depreciation is not your friend.  Everything that you list in your “inventory” will be considered used so you will not get the “new” price tag unless you have the actual receipts or you buy them after the fire and have “replacement value insurance,” in which case you will turn in the receipt and be refunded the new amount. If you don’t have replacement value insurance, they will ask for the date in which you originally bought it, and then determine a price from there… so be sure to consider this when creating your list.
  8. Consider hiring a liaison. If you have the time and are good with attention to detail, you can do all of this on your own as Cathy did after her first fire.  But with my dad’s house, they hired a liaison to help make sure the insurance adjuster was fair.  This can take a lot of stress off your shoulders and add a ton of knowledge/experience to the situation, but comes at a price, which is usually a negotiable percentage of your settlement amount. (They originally wanted 10%, but my family negotiated it down to 5%).
  9. Exhaust all options when deciding to rebuild. Gathering plenty of information and really weigh whether you should rebuild or take your settlement and relocate. You are allowed three appraisers.  The insurance company provides one and you can provide two others.  While they usually take the lowest of the three, but having multiple appraisals gives you adequate value information and the opportunity to fight claims if necessary. There was too much of a discrepancy between the high and the low appraisal in Cathy’s case, which made her worried, so she fought to get the proper value of her home. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and run through everything thoroughly.
  10. Review things you’d never think of. Last but not least is a mini list of all the things you would never think of…For example: you live on acreage of any kind, you have to consider the worth of your surroundings.  Your trees have value.  If your family has allergies, you have to make sure things are replaced versus just cleaning.  You cannot be compensated for upgrades but you can add them on for a cost during rebuilding, so make sure to discuss.  Have a good look at your policy and see how long it allots you to rebuild.  (It took my family 6 months before they were allowed by the county to demo the old house and two years to rebuild. ) Make sure you are covered with plenty of time.
My heart goes out to any and everyone who is affect by fire. I will never forget the surreal feeling of watching my childhood home engulfed in flames, but life does go on, and you quickly realize that the most important things in life are the people who are hugging you telling you that everything will be ok.