Stolen LEGO: Two weeks later, now with a $1200 reward

LEGO in grass and bushes

The past two weeks have been a blur. This is, by far, the strangest thing that has happened in my life to date. I sincerely hope it goes down as the strangest thing ever, because I don’t think I’m prepared for anything weirder than this.

Here’s a quick high-level summary and you can find more detail below:

  • Our LEGO collection is still missing after the LEGO theft on August 28th. We did find a small pile of LEGO outside (photo above); it looks like one set of drawers tipped over after being set down and these are the pieces that were left behind.
  • Today I’m announcing a $1200 reward for the successful return of our collection and helpful information on finding the person(s) responsible.
  • Our home owner’s insurance policy has us covered and will (eventually) pay for all replacement costs in full (less our $1200 deductible).
  • In spite of the above, several friends and family members have been amazingly generous and purchased gifts to help us start replacing our collection more quickly. We couldn’t be more thankful or grateful. Y’all are amazing!
  • We have installed $1000-worth of surveillance and security equipment to help us sleep again… which is finally starting to work.
  • We still need your help keeping eyes on the many different marketplaces and reporting leads.
  • Lastly, I’m bothered a lot by how inward facing all of this has been – my world view has had been too much about me these last two weeks. I’m looking forward to getting back to thinking about and investing in the rest of you.

$1200 Cash Reward!

Pile of Money
Photographic illustration. I promise I won’t pay you entirely in ones.

Yes, we can replace our collection 100% thanks to our home owner’s insurance policy (more details below). This will take time and will still cost us $1200 for our deductible. I’d like to speed that process up and just get the original collection back, so I’m putting up $1200 towards the successful return of our collection and apprehension of the person(s) responsible for the theft.

If you can help us get our collection back, or if you can help us find the person(s) responsible for the theft, we want to personally pay you $1200 for the information.

If you know anything about who did this, where to find them, or where to find our missing LEGO collection, I urge you to please contact the Grandville Police Department or me personally.

Thank you to our generous friends and family!

Despite being clear that our insurance will cover us, many of you saw fit to bless us anyway. Some of you sent LEGO, some of you offered to send LEGO, some offered money and time. I shouldn’t be surprised, knowing all of you like I do, yet here we are. It is so encouraging to know you and be related to you. You’re a wonderful reminder to be more generous myself.

Our insurance has us covered

This section was originally 1,000 words all by itself. I’ve pulled that out into a separate post that I’ll share later. For now I’ll give you a truncated version.

This week getting a $1200 check from the insurance company, against a $7500 loss. We’ll get the rest too, but it’s not a huge windfall that everyone expects and assumes when they say “they’re just doing it for the insurance money”.

Before I go any further, I need to say this: we love and recommend State Farm insurance (and have for years before this incident, too). They have been easy to work with on all fronts: vehicle insurance, renter’s insurance, home owner’s insurance, life insurance, etc. Every time we’ve needed to call them about anything, on any front, we were able to talk to a real human almost immediately. Every. Time.

In short, the process for restoring our collection will be based on reimbursement. As we are able to buy the lost sets we will submit receipts to State Farm. After that they will cut us a check for money spent.

But what if we get the original collection back?

I asked the detective in charge of our case the very same question. There is a restitution process for just such a thing. If we’re able to recover any original parts of our collection that will come off the insurance claim. If we were already paid for a replacement then either the replacement or original will become the insurer’s property. As it turns out, this is both a straight-forward and common occurrence.

 

Increasing our home security

Security camera
Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash.com

The most frustrating part of all of this for me is that someone was in our home, while we slept, and got away without us noticing anything. This is the only known break-in at this address since the home was built 60 years ago. And it will probably be the only one ever. But we can’t be sure of that, of course. And sleeping has become quite difficult now because every bump and creak puts us on high alert, tense dreams startle us awake, and so on.

So, beyond the $1200 deductible we need to pay for replacing our collection, we’ve spent another $1,000 on surveillance and security equipment for our home. We’ve also paid out far more in hours of attention and wasted anxiety.

I’m not going to give up any details about what we bought, though, as that would defeat the purpose of getting the security system in the first place. I can tell you what we’ve done in general, though, and what you might want to consider for your own home (where we both know a break-in will never happen because you live in a safe neighborhood and lead a private life and keep everything worth stealing either locked up or secret, naturally).

We purchased a combination of cameras and sensors from different providers. This mixture allows us to monitor all doors, floors, and windows. I intentionally picked parts from multiple systems to ensure redundancy. If one layer fails or is compromised another can still secure the area. Everything we’ve installed is connected wirelessly and has battery backups. Outbound signals for the security system will utilize its own 3G antenna if WiFi is unavailable. Our modem and router have their own battery backup as well.

If someone opens a door, or enters through a window, we will be notified immediately. If someone bypasses those security measures and makes it into any room in our house, the secondary system will still notify us immediately. And if someone can cut our power or our internet we will still be notified immediately.

If this sounds like overkill, that’s because it is. Now that the integrity of our home has been compromised, though, I don’t expect we’ll ever live without it. As a rational, thinking human being this bothers me to no end. This is a totally emotional response to a statistical uncertainty. But my rational thoughts aren’t what keep me awake at night.

A quick side-note on counting on other people’s security cameras

Many people asked us if any neighbors may have had security cameras pointing at our home. I was polite and brief in all of my answers about that: no they don’t. Do your neighbors have cameras pointed at your home? Would that make you more or less comfortable?

The more elaborate answer is: even if they did, most cameras have a usable line of sight of about 30 feet, and that’s reduced to about 15 feet in darkness. Even HD cameras still capture barely-useful footage in that full range, which reduces the truly useful distance even further. I could go into a lot more detail about the limitations of the optics and sensors themselves but I think that much detail is useless and will sound condescending. I’ll just sign off as an authority who is both a technophile and a person who has studied camera equipment for more than a decade now.

Casting a wide net

Fishing net
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash.com

There are so many digital marketplaces for LEGO. Holy smokes! I knew about a lot of places, but then people reached out and pointed out so many more. Now I’m watching all of them. If you can help watch any of them, too, I would greatly appreciate that.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of sales outlets to get you started:

And you can find the list of stolen goods and photos of the collection in my previous post.

I’ve also reached out to a number of resellers, advertised buyers, and Lego User Groups (LUGs) to make them aware of the theft and keep eyes peeled for our stolen goods.

As you can imagine, keeping tabs on each of these sites is a serious chore. That’s why I’m looking for help to keep tabs on all the listings and why I’ve offered the $1200 reward.

Reporting leads

If you have any promising leads or information to share, please do! You can reach the Grandville Police Department through the non-emergency line at (616) 538-6110 or email GVPD@cityofgrandville.com. Our case number is 17-6191.

You can contact me via email using my first name at this domain. I’m on twitter as @rzen. I’m also on Facebook and am usually absent there, but will make an exception for discussing this.

Thank you!

Help! My entire LEGO collection was stolen!

Did you take my entire LEGO collection? Because somebody did.

If it wasn’t you, can you help me find the thief?

A list of sets, some photos of the collection, and media coverage appear at the very end of this post.

Read the follow-up post, with details on a $1200 reward

When did this happen?

Sometime after 12:00am ET on Aug 28 (when I got into bed) and 9:00am ET on Aug 28 (when I returned to my basement office) some person(s) invaded my home and relieved our basement of practically every piece of LEGO. And that’s it. Nothing else in our locked home, or unlocked garage, was touched. None of our expensive electronics (computers, monitors, microphones, etc.), none of my expensive camera equipment (body, lenses, lighting, etc.), none of my woodworking tools (table saw, mitre saw, drill press, router table, etc), or any other things of any kind.

It sure sounds like a prank. A very ill-conceived and poorly timed prank. That’s the explanation that makes the most sense of this situation. But nobody has stepped forward or returned anything.

[Minor addendum, after thinking more critically: most of the computer equipment, except for desk-mounted monitors and microphone, were on the main floor of the house with us; the camera equipment was hidden from sight; and the tools would have been very difficult to remove due to their size]

How did this happen?

I honestly can’t say. My family was home the entire day on Sunday, Aug 27. We had a few close friends over for lunch that day – people we’ve known for years and who depend on their credible reputation for their careers (and, before you ask, everybody is on the suspect list, including me). My boys and I played downstairs throughout the afternoon. The LEGO was fully present and accounted for throughout all of that. I was personally up and about the house until midnight, and then awake and out of bed again by 6:30am on Monday, Aug 28. Our house was locked when I went to bed, and again when I left for breakfast at 7am. My family was awake throughout the house from the time I left (7am) until 9am when I returned home and went downstairs. That means the break-in most likely occurred between 12:00am and 6:00am on Monday, Aug 28.

Someone came into my home. While we were sleeping. And removed nothing except thousands of dollars of LEGO. Small, rattly pieces of plastic. Either with a crew that should be large enough to be noticed, or with many trips up and down the stairs.

I want it all back, of course, but almost more than that I want to know how they did it. How did they get all of the drawers, parts, and sets out of our house without any of us hearing?

How much did they take?

Table with 9 bins and 316 drawers of sorted LEGO
The sorted collection. 316 bins of pieces separated by part type.

We’re still working on the total volume, but I know it was generally in the realm of “a lot”. Enough to fill two 18Gal storage bins, at least. The good news is, I have a good idea of which pieces and which sets went missing.

You see, I spent some time last summer sorting my childhood LEGO collection and putting it into small-parts drawers (see above). I had quite a few misc sets and figures that I then put on display across the top of those drawers. I also happened to take copious amount of photos of the process and some of the cooler sets that are now (that is, were) in our collection.

Back when I was still a teenager, my mother had the bright idea to round up all of my LEGO instruction booklets and put them into a folder, which eventually expanded to fill a full box. And the thief just so happened to leave ALL of the manual in the box on the floor.

Box of LEGO instruction booklets
My fine collection of un-stolen LEGO manuals

The real kicker, though, is that they took the sets that Katie and I were actively building! Rather large gifts that we had gotten each other recently. They took these partially-assembled sets and all of the pieces that I had just finished laying out and organizing into plastic dishes across a table in our basement.

Here’s what the table looked like yesterday:

Katie, building the LEGO Disney Castle
Katie, building the LEGO Disney Castle

And here’s what things look like now:

My office, stripped of LEGO
The space formerly known as “the LEGO table”
Table with just a few empty containers
Our stripped and barren table

Those vile rats even took all of the tupperware and an ice  tray that the pieces were sorted into! I mean, just look at all this tupperware!

Tupperware and such
All of our glorious containers, now AWOL along with the LEGO that was in them

How can someone help?

First, theft is covered under our home owner’s insurance policy, and we’re working through the proper channels to sort that out. We are actively working with the local police department on this active case.

Our collective hunch is that the sets are being sold off individually and the rest of the pieces sold in one or many bulk lots. The best way you can help is to keep your eyes peeled for used LEGO that’s up for sale. Maybe via Craigslist, maybe via Facebook, maybe via ebay, or pawn shops, or elsewhere. The seller is probably going to list them within a couple hundred miles of Grandville, MI (49418).

Which sets are missing?

We’re working on a list of that and I’ll update this post accordingly as more info becomes available. Until then, below is a short list of the assembled sets and loose minifigs that we know were taken.

Any leads?

Please either contact the Grandville Police directly via 616-538-6110 or GVPD@cityofgrandville.com or email me privately. My email address is my first name at this domain.

Thanks!

How about some more photos?

Sure thing, here’s a partial gallery documenting some of the sets and parts!

Media Coverage

So far this story has been covered by Inside the Magic, the Miami Herald, and Fox 17 news (WXMI) in Grand Rapids.

Ditching your DVDs for a Better Home Theater Experience

Recently a number of people have been asking me about what I did with my collection of 240+ DVDs. I still have them, but they’re packed away in storage. Last year I set out on a quest to digitally rip every movie we owned so that we could easily watch them on any of our devices in any room of our home.

I’ve already blogged about the streaming part of my setup, we steam movies using Drobo FS and Media Tomb (note that if you buy a newer Drobo, like a Drobo 5N, you can instead use a much slicker app named Plex).

As for the ripping and cataloging of our discs, my good friend Terry White laid the foundation by documenting his entire DVD to MP4 conversion process. The punchline, quite simply, is to use Handbrake for OSX and select the “Universal” preset.

That’s pretty much it. Rip via Handbrake, store on any device of your choosing. If you put them on a network-attached storage unit (NAS) you gain the benefit of having them always accessible anywhere on your home network. If you use a device like Drobo you gain the additional benefit of automatic redundant backups (so if a drive fails you’re not completely hosed).

What about file size?

Across our movies, the average file size is 1.5GB. This means that our entire DVD collection clocks in at ~375GB. Not bad.

Hope this helps!

Maybe we’re too caught up on efficiency. We spend …

Maybe we’re too caught up on efficiency. We spend our lives fine-tuning our ability to make money – which is a good thing – but then we use that money to avoid doing some of the only things in a human life that can provide actual fulfillment. We pay someone else to raise and teach our children. We pay someone to build our home, and then someone else to heat them. We pay others to manufacture our Christmas trees. On the one hand, we passionately believe that work is a good thing, and important. But we’ve fallen prey to a philosophy that holds work as a means to an end, not an end in itself. We’ve forgotten that good work – hard work – is in itself fulfilling. Build something. Chop some wood. See if I am wrong.

Weirdest Incident Yet…

Here at the Richards Manor, we don’t get a lot of foot traffic. We’re a young married couple with no kids, surrounded by retirees, 10+ miles from our nearest friends.

Despite this, however, our doorbell rings at a surprisingly regular rate. Not daily, mind, but almost certainly weekly.

It’s a game I like to call “Doorknob Roulette”

Lately, I’ve taken to making a game of things. See, I never know who is going to be at the door (except that I can guarantee it’s never a package delivery man, because they seem to be of the mind to toss our package in the garage and go… I almost never know when something has been actually delivered).

Usually I’m greeted by a solicitor of some kind (cut your heating bill!, paint your home!, get new cabinets!, need a new roof?). Once in a while it’s a neighbor who needs technical assistance (usually with their printer, or scanner, or email). On the rarest occasions, it’s a neighborhood kid asking to shovel our sidewalk or mow our lawn.

If it’s clearly a solicitor I’ll sometimes let them ring the doorbell and then leave without answering, never admitting that I’m home (after all, it’s 2 in the afternoon… who is home at that time of day?)

Today’s incident, however, is the weirdest I’ve encountered on my doorstep…

The person on the outside was a teenager, probably 14 or 15 years old. Standing a ways behind him on the sidewalk was (I suspect) his mother. He rang the doorbell at least twice before I could get upstairs to answer, and I think a third time as I was getting to the door.

When I opened the door he asked, “Does a kid named Angelo live here?”

When I said, “No, it-” he cut me off and said, “Cuz a kid named Angelo threw a rock at my little brother… cut his head open. And he said his house was over here in this area…”

I interjected again, completing my thought, “No, it’s just my wife and I… sorry.”

Then he and his mother both said, “Okay, thanks for your time!” and trotted off.

Uh, what?

I wasn’t really sure what to do with this tiny glimpse into someone else’s life I was given so, naturally, I thought the only logical conclusion was to share it with everyone en masse.

I wonder what will happen to poor ole Angelo in the event that these two ever catch up with him. Vigilante street justice? Perhaps… If they wanted to have words with young Angelo, I wonder why his mother was in the background and not the person knocking at the door. Really, I wonder why she was even coming along at all if the boy was the one doing all the knocking… That’s the most bizarre part.

Have you ever had anything this strange at your door?

Working from Home is Not for the Faint of Heart

When I tell people what I do, and that I work from home, far too often I hear, “I wish I worked from home and could do whatever I want…”

Well, today I’m here to set you straight.

Working from home demands a vast amount of dedication and self-discipline. It isn’t the cakewalk that you’ve made it out to be in your mind. When you work from home, you live where you work. How many of you would like to live at your desk or in your office (literally, not figuratively)?

Aside: I wrote moste of this while in the thick of freelancing and as a form of therapeutic recreation. It really helped me put a handle on how I was working and helped me take control of my life in a way that has had dramatically positive effect for myself and those around me. Here’s hoping it helps you, too.

Work Habits

On many occasions, friends and family have quipped about my habits of working in my PJs or sleeping in til almost noon. What they don’t realize is that it’s usually because I worked until 4am the night before and likely resumed working immediately after waking.

But, there’s no commute.

And therefore, nothing stopping me from being at the office at any hour of the day.

At least you can set your own hours!

True, and I’m very grateful for that when I need to cut out for an hour or a full day for various errands. Most often, though, it just means I’m working all hours of the day every day of the week. Once again, there is nothing to stop me.

But you can work anywhere! You could take a vacation any time!

Except, if I’m on vacation it means I’m not working, which means there is no active income entering our bank account. To counteract that, the simple solution is to work on the way to/from or during the vacation. Does that sound like a vacation to you?

Working from home sounds pretty awful, why do you do it?

Because I can set my own hours, work in my PJs, sleep til noon, work from anywhere AND there’s no commute. Plus, I pretty much get to do whatever I want. Haven’t you been reading the headings?

If I can be serious for a moment, working from home obviously has both benefits and detriments. Setting your own hours is only wise if you have the discipline to stop working and the ability to find value in resting and leisure activities. If you miss that, you miss everything.

(Pro-tip: you might want to read that last bit again.)

It took me four and a half years to realize that taking a break was not only relaxing, but paramount to a successful, healthy work life.

Discipline for the Uninhibited

If you’re like me, discipline is a word that makes you a bit uneasy. It means structure, routines, order, strictness, boring stagnant misery. Well, that’s how I used to feel anyway. Discipline is actually an integral part of complete, unrestricted freedom. No, really… just check out some of these examples.

Finding Freedom in Routines

As boring as it seems, a strong routine is actually the fastest way to a fun, relaxing lifestyle.  Creating a routine for yourself is one of the most important steps you can take towards freedom. Sure it’s foolish to try to schedule “fun” into a weekly calendar, but it’s more foolish to believe you’ll have time for fun if you don’t schedule a definitive end time to your work.

Here’s a brief example of my typical daily routine:

  • Awake
  • Breakfast
  • Shower
  • Personal Reading
  • Field Emails (1hr or less)
  • Get stuff done
  • Lunch
  • Field Emails (round 2, 1hr or less)
  • Get stuff done
  • Quit work, switch to personal projects/relaxation
  • Dinner
  • Personal work/relaxation
  • Bed

Respecting Your Time (Avoid Time Sink)

The biggest destructive force to a good schedule and routine is time sink.

The quality of your free time and your work are intimately connected. If you guard your free time and keep it sacred, totally devoid of any work, you’ll find that you will be more productive and less distracted while you work. Similarly, if you keep your work time entirely focused and free of interruptions you’ll find that you can work fewer hours and commit more time to hobbies and rest.

If you don’t respect the boundaries between work and leisure you’ll quickly find yourself discontent with the work you complete and unsatisfied by the quality of your down-time.

Take it from a guy who knows first-hand: when you refuse to rest you will actively seek, and feel justified in, taking distraction-filled breaks throughout the day. Later, when you feel compelled to rest you won’t be able to because you’ll have this nagging feeling that you didn’t get enough done and you need to accomplish just one more thing. Which leads me to my next point…

Manage Your Expectations (The reason you’re dissatisfied)

The leading cause of unhappiness isn’t poor circumstances or unfortunate events, it’s a mismanagement of expectations.

Consider all the times you’ve felt unfulfilled in your work, or like you had an overwhelming number of items left on your to-do list at the end of the day. Also consider all the times the new (phone|computer|movie|whatever) left you wanting. Is it because your job is overwhelming? Is it because those products/events were overhyped or under-delivered? Or, is it because you set an unrealistic expectation of how much you could do in a day, how long a project would take, or how incredible the shiny new thing truthfully is?

Leading a satisfied and fulfilled life is deeply rooted in managing your expectations properly. When you set realistic expectations for yourself, and others, you’ll soon find that your job is better than you realize, there will always be more days to get work done, and that how you’re living today – right now – is vastly more important than how much better your life can be in some unspecific time in the future.

Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around…

That’s what it’s all about, folks. Discipline, dedication and healthy expectations. If you have those three things, you can change the world. Or, at the very least, you can work from home in your pajamas and not go horribly wrong.

Spend Less, Give More

This year, instead of wasting your time, money, efforts, sanity on dutifully following the same old Christmas routine, try a new approach.

Christmas is a season to remind us of giving. Read that once more. Not of giving gifts, but giving ourselves. It’s not the only time we’re expected to do this, either. Christmas serves as a reminder, a reminder of how we should be all year long.

So, consider this your wake-up call. It doesn’t take money or affluence to make a difference, it just takes you and your time. Make it happen!

A Much-Needed Weekend

I just wanted to take a moment to say I’ve been enjoying a much-needed weekend (time to relax and just be).

My wife and I went to Carson City, MI to visit my family and while we were there we enjoyed some time being disconnected from the world (i.e. there is no internet at my parent’s house, and so we were forcibly disconnected). It was good.

On the web-front: I’ve been working on my building photo gallery, so all of you waiting for photographs: Stay tuned!

New Life

Forgive me in advance for what is about to be a very scattered post. I was lying in bed only moments ago, reading Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborn and had to log some of my thoughts.

For the first time in my life I want to live in a way that draws attention. Not for being better at something, or for succeeding in something that is ultimately meaningless, but for standing out against the normal patterns of humanity.

I want to reach out to others in need and help them as best I can. I want to give up my excess so that others can simply have enough. I want to give it all away. Will I? Can I? That I do not know. What’s important is that for the first time, possibly ever, I am truly desiring it.

This last week God has shown me great things. Never before have I known how he would use me, or why he was calling me. All along I’ve known that he was calling me to do something different; calling me to do something greater. It wasn’t until I visited Josh at Watermelon Ministries that I got a glimpse of just how great my service can be. For me, it isn’t enough to simply focus some of my time on ministry. God hasn’t called me to “help others when I can”, God has called me (all of us, even) to serve others always.

For the last two years I have been praying for God to use me in some way, to guide my steps and show me where to go. Really, what I had been asking for is “God, help me find an excuse to keep doing commercial work so that I won’t have to experience poverty for myself.” It is time I stop playing things safe — I am ready to live recklessly for Christ.

On the surface this means that I will be working for His House and sharing my talents to bless as many other ministries as I can. Underneath this means that I will be pruning back the areas in my life that I have not yet turned over to Christ.

After this month I will no longer be taking on commercial design projects. God has called me to separate myself from the ways of the world, and I wish to honor that call. There is more to this life than money, and I hope to experience that. I no longer wish to live as myself; I have died to that way of life. I have found new life. Christ lives within me.

Please pray for me as I begin a new walk with Christ. Pray that I could continue to persue a life of financial instibility and would rejoice in it.

Thank you for taking the time out of living your life to learn a little bit about mine. May God bless you!

-Brian