Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Storm Spotter

Awhile back, Cindy over at The Flipping Couple posted some amazingly beautiful pictures of colorful storm clouds. This inspired me to go back through my own "storm shots" over the past couple of years.

We can get some pretty wicked storms around these parts. When I was a mere apartment-dweller, I found storms much more exciting than I do now that I'm a homeowner. Although there's still somewhat of a fascination with them, my stomach churns a little when the hail begins to fall or the weatherman reports 80mph straightline winds (or, God forbid, a tornado) headed our way. Yes, we have homeowners insurance, but that's not always a comforting thought when you're huddled underneath the staircase in the basement. Luckily, our house has managed to escape from the storms unscathed as we near the end of our third summer here.

Anyway. The point is, since we've lived in our house, I've grabbed my camera to snap some pictures of some of the particularly ominous clouds as they roll in. Because, you know, it's much less stressful to look back at photos of storms than to actually experience them descending upon your defenseless little house.

The photos don't quite do justice to the real thing, probably because I haven't learned the right way to take an outdoor picture in low lighting.

Which part of nature's wrath do you dread as a homeowner?

Oh, and don't worry, I'll actually have some other updates for you soon, including....
A budding musician in the house?
The perfect stretch of empty wall that’s begging for a photo display?
An office makeover?
And, a new addition to the family?!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An unwelcome life lesson.

In my last post, I said I was going to return soon to continue blogging. But I debated for awhile whether or not I wanted to write about the reason for my absence this past month. I decided I'm going to though. One, because it's certainly been one of our "adventures" as first-time homeowners (although not a good one). Two, because I'd like to think that just maybe, I can give some advice that might prevent it from happening to someone else. Three, it could be somewhat therapeutic for me, because writing usually is.

Our house was broken into a few weeks ago. Literally broken into... two doors were kicked in. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, but here's the jist of it. It happened in broad daylight, while we were both at work. From what little we have to go on, they (?) knocked on our front door to see if anyone was home. Then they broke in through the side garage door/kitchen door and took what they could grab quickly and without being too obvious. This included two digital cameras, a laptop, power tools, and jewelry. (In case you're wondering, our cat was fine, thankfully.)

Having gone through this awful experience and the headache that follows it, I thought it would be a good chance to share some advice that might make others more aware and less susceptible. Because feeling vulnerable and victimized sucks.

Install a security system -- and use it. There are people who think that a security system isn't worth it. But maybe those are the people that have never been burglarized before. True, it's a shame that you have to pay to protect your home, where you're supposed to feel safe. But after this incident, we had a system installed and I think it's worth it for the peace of mind (whether we are or aren't at home). Most of our neighbors have security signs in their yard, so maybe that's why our house was targeted. And if our signs and window decals aren't enough to deter burglars, then surely the alarm would do the trick if they did decide to break in. Also, having a security system can potentially lower your homeowner's insurance, even if it's just a little bit.

Know your neighbors. We know all our immediate neighbors and have traded phone numbers with several of them. Our neighbor was able to call and tell Luke about our door being open, and he then immediately called the cops. So at least we didn't have to come home from work to find our house that way and be completely freaked out. And now that most of our neighbors know about what happened to us, everyone will be more aware of what's going on around them.

Don't plant bushes or trees next to your garage or other entry doors that can obstruct the view from the street. Unfortunately, our neighbor has several large trees with low branches that do a good job of hiding our side door (or someone trying to break in). I had never really thought of the potential danger of that until this happened.

Be aware of your surroundings. If you notice a strange vehicle driving around the neighborhood, make note of it or try to get a tag number. You never know if you might need it. While I'm going to try not to become a completely paranoid freak, I am going to pay more attention from now on.

Keep your valuable items hidden. Don't just leave your watch laying out on a dresser, or your checkbook on the kitchen counter. Burglars are looking for items that are quick to grab. I could kick myself for leaving both our cameras out in plain sight on an end table, although the perp(s) did end up looking in the console where the cameras would have been stored anyway. With that said, thieves will still probably rummage through a few drawers and doors to see if they can find anything of value (at least in our experience).

Document your valuable items. Keep receipts and write down serial numbers or any other identifying information. You can even have your name or other identifier engraved on certain items in case they get stolen. You'll want to have as much information as possible to submit to insurance for your claim (and to the police for tracking purposes). You can even take pictures of items -- just make sure you print out the photos or back them up some other way.

Back up your digital photos. Speaking of photos, don't just keep them stored on your digital camera without saving them somewhere else -- whether it be a flash drive, CD, Google album, or whatever. I lost a lot of photos that were on my camera, as well as those on my computer that I hadn't transferred anywhere else. Even if they find your camera/laptop at a pawn shop, don't expect your photos -- or the memory card -- to be there.

Don't leave big boxes out on your driveway waiting for trash day. This didn't pertain to us, but still, do you want everyone and their dog knowing that you just got a nice new flat-screen TV?

Keep personal information in a safe or other secure place. Although we're pretty sure none of our personal info was touched, we still took precautions to change our bank account numbers and move a lot of important documents from a regular filing drawer to one of those heavy-duty, fireproof safes with a lock. Having tangible items stolen was bad enough, but having our bank account or identities compromised would be worse.

Install a deadbolt or other security feature on your doors. The two doors that were kicked in only had basic doorknob locks. If they had deadbolts, it would have made it harder--although maybe not impossible--to kick in. (We've already installed new doors/deadbolts.)

Don't leave your garage door opener in your car, if you're parked outside your house. If someone decides to break into your car, this is giving them an invitation into your house. Not good. (Again, this isn't what happened to us, it's just another tip that seems like common sense but not everyone thinks about.)

Review your homeowners policy. Know whether or not your insurance will cover lost items for their replacement value (at current prices) or the actual cash value (at the depreciated value).

Don't think it can't happen to you. We live in a pretty nice neighborhood with low crime. We're also on a corner with a decent amount of traffic that drives by us, not hidden back out of sight. But the sad fact is, in addition to the regular ol' criminals, a lot of people are out of jobs and getting desperate in this cruddy economy. And if they're desperate and dangerous, that's a bad combination.

Don't pretend you're not home. I thought I'd throw this one in. It comes from our security system rep, who used to be a sheriff. If someone knocks at your door and you either don't know who it is, or you think it's a salesperson, do something to let them know someone is at home. Make noise somehow. If it's someone with bad intentions, you don't want them breaking in and being taken by surprise to see you there. And if you're really concerned about it, just call the cops. Better safe than sorry.

Okay, that turned out to be quite the list. And remember, these are just suggestions that I have based on our own situation. I could drive myself crazy thinking about this stuff on a daily basis. And even if we ourselves had followed all this advice, it still may have happened to us. Who knows.

If you can think of any other precautions that might be helpful, feel free to share. I may or may not be mentioning this incident again (unless they catch whoever did it, in which case I'll be sharing that good news). And I'm determined to make my next post related to some type of home improvement project, which is what this blog is supposed to be about.  :)

Thanks again for listening, and for all your supportive comments that made me want to keep blogging when I was so close to giving it up.


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