Saturday, October 27, 2007

Creative Distractions

When Alex chose his big pumpkin, he had big plans. Geoff watched the artful and disturbing "Pan's Labyrinth" with Alex and William, and from the movie Alex was inspired to create his own El Fauno in Jack'o lantern form. Alex chose the design and transfered it to the pumpkin and then William did the carving, which he had to improvise a bit, because the ink sketch kept wiping off. I am so happy we have a camera... the pumpkin is rotting already, but we can always enjoy the memory of this haunting-Halloween magic pumpkin.

Maria stays busy all day. She likes to cook and host tea parties, she loves playing with dough... Anne commented about how long Maria is happy to play with her dough and tools. She played for 5 hours! Want a terrific dough recipe?... scroll past the rant to find all the particulars for making non-stinky, fun dough. Maria also likes to cut paper, paint, color, draw, run... she runs a lot, and she loves the beach.

Last week, when Geoff was sprucing the yard with help from his 3 sons, Max had floral design inspiration. He wanted to open a shop where he could sell his creative combinations of tomatillos, agapanthus leaves, cape honeysuckle, ficus leaves, society garlic blossoms and sticks.

He was learning the names of these plants and asking about their toxin factors. I think it would be fun to take him to floral wholesaler and work with him on big arrangements... maybe something for Thanksgiving. I used to make floral arrangements. It was fun.

So many ways to play... what joy!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Can't Believe It's Friday

Today is all about staying sane and looking for our routine... wait, I just remembered we never had a routine! Just kidding. We have never been a super-disciplined family, but I look forward to returning to our own brand of chaos, and leaving soot, smoke and sore throats in the past. I keep meaning to show up at an evacuation center, but with four children it's difficult to make myself a community volunteer, so I will continue to act locally.

Since I am not thinking-up deep thoughts, I'll share some links...

Fire Safety is the name of the game and this Escondido resident has some good advice. Fire Safety Begins at Home

Or, if you are a special member of our sadly polarizing society you may be enjoying this service... private fire fighters for the castle crowd.

Remember my confusion about how to save the planet and have a China-free Christmas? Well, Jennifer, of "Infinity More Monkeys," has some helpful thoughts and ideas about the subject... she helped me focus on my motivation.

Finally, if you really need to escape, there's always bird watching.

Be safe.

2 p.m.
More good news!
From my cousin Debbie, in Colorado, news that their local Red Cross volunteers have been very busy helping San Diego fire evacuees. Isn't that wonderful? They've been down at Petco Park, and cooking for families in Valley Center, with the help of First Baptist Kitchen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Now We Get to Clean

Clean-up: A blessing and a nightmare.
Once you get over the initial honor and blessing of having a house, still standing and undamaged, then you have to come to terms with the scary prospect of cleaning ash, soot, microscopic particulate matter that is carcinogenic, from outside, inside, the cars, the bottom of your shoes, your hair, the cat, the toys in the yard... everywhere!

May I just re-emphasize how clean and lovely our home was, inside and out, Sunday afternoon?

This stuff is nasty. Nasty in the short term, because of the spread and volume, and it breaks in to an infinite, airborne dust as soon as anything touches it or a breeze swirls. It smells bad too. Nasty in the long term, because it is like inhaling a sample of every plastic, synthetic, hazardous material burning in San Diego County. And those little white masks from the hardware store? "Better than nothing, maybe, but not effective in keeping out the junk."

And when should you start cleaning? The fires are not contained. While it is impossible to maintain the same level of heightened awareness, anxiety, adrenaline... the reality is we are still in the middle of an emergency and disaster. Exertion is ill-advised in this air-quality. Sweep the porch and come back to sweep again in 20 minutes? Kind of pointless. Ash is still falling, and more will come with every wind gust. I swept our entryways in hopes of keeping us from tracking more stuff in. We have to conserve power too, so no dishwashers, or laundry... is everyone following these requests?

We are faring well under the circumstances. Yes, we are coughing and sneezing. My eyes hurt. My nose hurts. William and Geoff cough a lot.

I find myself avoiding trying to comprehend the magnitude of all of this, because emotionally, it devastates me. I sympathize and empathize and I am overcome when I think too long on families and houses, burn victims, losses, fears, little children, animals, trees, the places I know and love, the businesses hurt, the firefighters, law enforcement, volunteers... so much pain, so much fear and loss, and we are not done yet.

I just keep a prayer running in my head, in my heart... keep everyone safe, and thank you. Thank you for fire fighting crews coming from Grand Junction, Colorado, and East Los Angeles and Tijuana and Tecate, from all over the world.
Thank you for cooperation and compassion.
Thank you for Petco; they are not only raising money, but they are at the evacuation centers providing supplies and helping all of the animals.
Thank you for the messages of encouragement and love coming to our home from friends, new and old, far and near. Last night I received an email from Perth Australia... Laura R. has been reading Chickenblog and the maps from yesterday helped her and her evacuated San Diego friend share more information. Thank you Laura for writing to me, for sharing your kind thoughts.
Thank you Debbie M., Beverly, Carol V., Jess, and thank you Jennifer... Infinity thank yous!
Thank you "Natalie from Phoenix"... and don't give-up on your blog... it's worthwhile for all the friends and support you will find!
Thank you Jeanne and Julie... we Hens gotta stick together!
It cheered me to hear the sound of "One Hand Knitting." Thank you Diane.
Thank you to my California blog buddy at Nikkipolani.
Thank you Andylynne and I hope you start blogging too! Thank you Mary.
Janece, I know you are praying, thank you, and I am keeping your family in my prayers too.
Thank you Anne... and Janice, Maria and Belinda, whatever is for dinner, it is always better with friends!
Thank you Hans... your evacuation offer is intriguing lol.
Thank you Ron and Delia, and Ruth and Jim... and Grandma Nancy... we could never be homeless, not really.
Thank you Holly and Rich, for going above and beyond the call of duty. We owe you.

Keep everyone safe, keep everyone safe... Keep praying.

And find little things to be thankful for.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego County Wild Fire Updates

New maps of the situation were posted about 2 hours ago. Our county emergency web page is a great source, but very slow, since it is very busy. I printed and photographed the map, so you don't have to wait for it to upload...

Red: Active burn areas
Orange: Fire perimeters/hotspots
Purple (looks gray): Mandatory evacuation (Fairbanks Ranch, San Marcos, Harmony Grove, Julian, Scripps-Poway, Peñasquitos, Rancho Santa Fe, parts of Escondido, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Palomar, Pauma, Jamul, Dehesa, Skyline, Sweetwater, Bonsall, parts of Oceanside, Otay, Camp Pendleton, Lake Henshaw)
Green: reopened areas

Sample scale: The distance between downtown Carlsbad and downtown Encinitas is 10 miles
Yellow roads/highways are closed.

Disaster Relativity

Geoff watching "Charlie and Lola" with Isabella and Maria. He did spend some time with us, when he wasn't defending the homestead.

"It's all relative" goes the expression. We are safe, relatively. We were much safer thanks to relatives. And we have not suffered, relative to those families still evacuated and learning the sad fate of their homes, possessions and pets. So, I can't complain... but I will anyway... ha-ha! OKay, not so much complain, but assess the anxiety and recount the details, because it's too stressful to keep it all bottled up in my head.

Last night the voluntary evacuation for our community was lifted, and we returned to Garage Mahal about 9 p.m. It stinks bad, but the air is surprisingly clear (again, that's relative!.) We are keeping a watchful eye on the Witch-Poomacha Fire. That's two fires that merged early this morning, for a jumbo fire that has burned 220,000+ acres and is still uncontained. I-5 was closed for many hours this morning, due to 3 uncontained fires at Camp Pendleton... unsettling to lose that escape route, but it's recently reopened.

Let's see... other than having our nerves rattled and still feeling alert and on edge, I think we are okay. Of course we're okay, right? Pets are here, house is standing, friends we've heard from are safe... check, check and check.

How to Be a Good Parent in a Disaster: Let your children feel empowered, even if it means filling the tub with Lego bricks covered by soaked towels.

Everyone is hearing about the Santa Ana Winds that are finally calming and they report that as good news... Santa Anas are powerful, hot winds and gusts that come from the east when there is an area of high pressure over the Great Basin in Utah. Relatively, it is good news, but, and you knew there had to be a big but here, the off-shore breeze blows back all of the smoke that was moving across the Pacific as far west as Hawaii. Off-shore winds are also less predictable than the Santa Anas and make it much tougher on the fire fighters as they try to anticipate where the fire will move... + the Santa Anas are not gone, just turned down, so those poor fire fighters are dealing with multiple wind directions. Another issue is that the new wind direction, means the fire is switching directions, going back over areas that were in peril and heading to all new areas. Julian, the mountain community we were visiting last week has lost power and phone connections and they are under mandatory evacuation.

This is a very recent update on the overall situation.

Well, I have had enough of wild fires, evacuations, fretting, stinky air and feeling heart-broken watching displaced families looking at ash piles and rubble, and from plenty of past experience, I know we are a long way from back to normal. I remember after the 2003 fires for a few months we could smell ash-smoke-fire stench every time the wind blew... it took quite a few rains to wash away that smell and it took even longer for me not to feel a moment of panic when the smell of fire was in the air.

Last Friday I paid to have the carpets cleaned lol, and we spent Sunday sprucing and scrubbing the yard... it looked awesome. We are blessed. A sooty, smelly, disheveled rental palace is still a home and we are happy to have it. Thank you to everyone who has called, emailed and left comments. Your thoughts, prayers and kindness have kept me sane, distracted and happy... it really is wonderful to feel connected. I hear helicopters... I see blue in the sky... I smell soot... I feel tired. I am going to cook the dinner I had planned for Mom's Night Out, which I was supposed to host last night. Soup anyone?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Encroaching Witch... time for a cold beer

Geoff came to our family evacuation center. I was happy to see him and the kids felt better having their daddy here.
The rest of the story: We checked the fire map and confirmed that the fire is making a strong push westward and around to some particularly direct access canyons, so what do you think? Yup, he's on his way back to Garage Mahal. Something to do with not wanting to disconnect the hard-drives unless it is absolutely mandatory.

Dear God, please don't let my husband be on the evening news.

Pretty much reaching a point of surrealism. Fire is worse than ever, and all I can think about is how badly I need to start exercising and wondering whether the Lego bricks really will be okay under the wet towels in the bath-tubs... And I can't quite fully accept that this is far from over. The initial rush and anxiety has subsided and my brain keeps proposing a return to normalcy... Let's go home. Time to clean-up. Are we there yet?

San Diego Unified School District closed schools until Monday... we suppose it will be the same in our district... I wish I could show you the barely contained elation on Alex's face!
Passing Time and Thinking

William and I are sharing Geoff's laptop. Yes, he's still home. Others I've heard from: Jola, B, Karen and Yanina are all home and ready to head out if necessary. So, from our laptop command center we are following The San Diego County Emergency web page.... oh, which is now failing... may be you'll have better luck.

I also have my map out... most recently I used it to confirm my suspicion about the Harmony Grove mandatory evacuation. Harmony Grove is where the 1996 wild fire burned, moved to the coast, devastated La Costa and sent us south when embers were landing our roof. Harmony Grove is in a deep valley or canyon with arteries that reach the coastal communities of Olivenhain, Leaucadia, South Carlsbad, Encinitas and Cardiff... fires love those dry, hard to access canyons.

Mandatory evacuations are happening well ahead of the fire, so that time will allow for safe exit. So, the fire that was on the north side of Lake Hodges and Del Dios Highway must have done what we feared and climbed the hills that run east-west... so that it is traveling towards the backside toward Elfin Forest, San Marcos, San Elijo Hills and the Escondido Creek, which is an entrance to Olivenhain and Rancho Santa Fe. The actual Witch Fire does not have to reach these points... Santa Ana winds, hot and fast, carry embers miles away and ignite palm trees, dry brush and debris, then the fire just spreads.

Concern: A new fire in the Palomar Mountain area, that started as a house fire, is now 20,000 acres and growing. Firefighters express fear of it merging with the Witch Fire. The Harris fire, in the southern part of the county is growing too.

Even though we are welcome and safe here with Holly and Rich and their children, I really, really want to go home. No more wise-cracks about my Garage Mahal Rental Palace. Home is home. And, goofy me, I am really upset that I cleaned it so well, then all hell broke loose and it's a mess. The boys filled the tubs with some of their Lego bricks, then covered them with wet towels! How precious is that? I'm sure the house stinks... it was bad after 1 day. We ran around like headless chickens pulling stuff out and debating its value in our Evacuation Plan: Swim fins? Change jar? Bamboo driftwood that looks like a reindeer? Chicken collection? All my cleaning efforts shot to hell. Minor. Minor. Minor.

I would go home, but so much depends on very undependable factors, and when the fire has a chance to move fast, it moves very fast. So, it would seem obvious and reasonable to stay put... ah, but who wants to be reasonable? I feel anxious and bored, hurried and caught. You can imagine the scene: 6 children going stir-crazy, 2 adults trying to work from home, heat, bad air, the news running 24 hours, and me sitting in the middle, blogging and being mostly useless. Holly runs a wonderful evacuation center, but if I don't start making myself useful they may send us to the Stadium... lol.

At least I showered.

I forgot my toothbrush, and I couldn't find my cell phone.

I should volunteer myself as an example of how not to parent during a crisis. Don't stare vacantly at ceiling. Don't show children worse case scenarios and maps of projected fire paths. Don't buy cases of glazed donuts and promise children the best Christmas ever! Don't remind husband to bring the butt wipes if when he evacuates. Don't mock officials that set-up evacuation centers in the line of fire.

I'm going to check the news, then hug the children, then call Geoff and remind him that I love him. Keep writing to me, so I have a valid excuse to sit with the laptop.

It's Morning

I think by now our plight is on the national news... our news is local only and we can't get enough. Nothing changes minute to minute, but I hang on every word, waiting for any update, anxiously.

We are safe... the animals too. We packed some basics and headed for Holly and Rich's, where the air is much clearer and the fire seems far less likely to spread. My friends? I don't know... some have certainly been evacuated, some I know have homes in the burn areas. Even where there is no fire, smoke and air quality conditions are horrible and it's almost impossible to comprehend how close the fire is. They do know it's burning straight to the beaches, with no containment.

Containment: The fire is circled.
Controlled: The fire is getting put out.

I know Rachel A. called our home last night and talked to Geoff (left a message?) I hope she's with her dog, in a safe place. We have a lot of friends from school that we are thinking of and worried about.

Yes, Geoff is still at the house. Yes, I am worried. No, he's not in immediate-super-extra danger. You may be wondering What the @#$! is he doing there? I can't explain it, but this morning, looking at the latest map and evacuation mandates, all I could think or feel was a huge compulsion to go home and stand my ground. It makes no sense.

Have I ever posted about my super powers of navigation? Geoff calls me his Nativigator. My mind is mapping every street, canyon, ridge, creek valley and neighborhood, and I have a good memory for the last two fires that had us evacuating our homes... uh, did I have a point? I guess I am just keenly aware of how bad this situation is.

It would touch your heart to see the things the boys brought, the things they wanted to bring, the things they tried to protect before he left Garage Mahal. They loaded our photo albums. I brought important papers, pillows and blankets, some quilts. The cats, bunny and bird are with us. Last night, as I was looking for diapers in the car, I saw the boys had packed Alex's yearbook painting, a 1948 publication of "Cheaper By The Dozen," their homework!... such dedication. This is the 3rd time I leave my house in the path of a firestorm and What to Bring? is still a weird, disturbing and surreal challenge. I follow the disaster preparedness checklist So Cal residents keep handy, but trust me, there is a great deal that becomes overwhelming and emotionally stressful. I left my ironed, folded fabric! My engagement ring is still packed somewhere in the garage. I know, I know... family is the most important, things can be replaced... or can they? This is not as easy in practice as it is in theory.

Anne, where are you guys? I called your place before we left, and I assume you guys have headed out. Linda, Josie, Betsy, Susan, Jola and Mark, Julie G., James and Deanne, Belinda? Hey friends. You are in my prayers. Prayers for everyone. Prayers and concern going out to our firefighters, law enforcement, volunteers. Doug and Blanca... stay safe, God bless you.

And one more thing... tonight I am MNO host. On the menu: Chilled wine, maybe some Margaritas, albondigas and hot corn tortillas as an appetizer and then chile rellenos for the main course. Dessert? Chocolate brownie cake. Mom's Night Out sisters, this is the first MNO that won't happen and that we'll never forget! Let's have a make-up night as soon as possible... we'll go straight to the wine and dessert!

Leave comments. Get in touch. It's good to hear other news.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Our neighborhood is being evacuated.
I really want to come back and say we over-reacted.

Again? Really?

We are looking at a completely brown sky, listening to howling winds, and monitoring every news broadcast in San Diego County. I suppose nationally, the news can't stop brooadcasting the Malibu fire, where there are famous people, but once again San Diego is in big trouble... worse than '96, and (is it possible?) worse than '03. Here's one account of what's happening with the eight out of control fires in our county. We've seen this before and I can tell it is worse... the winds blew hard all night, there are more fires... No school today. Many friends in evacuation areas...

Um. It's weird to be in this situation, because it's easy to feel alarmist and yet the conditions are prime for catastrophic scenarios. Seriously.

I have already seen news coverage of familiar places burning, places we were just visiting. Adjacent neighborhoods are being evacuated, and the offical statement from county officials, the sheriff's office and the fire department is that the fire is 0% contained, out of control, cannot be fought on the ground or from the air, and will only worsen with these wind patterns and low humidity. Worsen.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Stitches

Instead of complaining that I was cleaning, all alone, and whining about unpacking boxes, because we still haven't moved-in completely, rather than plummet into a deep funk about life's futility and frustrations... instead of all of that, I am going to share what I found in one of those unpacked boxes. I am going to reflect on the silver felt lining. When Maria was nearly a year old and the children were home, unschooling at the TreeHouse, I introduced them to applique, embroidery and acrylic felt. Tamsyn was with us too, up from her house and hanging out. I wonder if she remembers when we did this little project.

I wish I knew where their projects are. They made reindeer and trees and other charming symbols of the season. Maria was crawling around, and Alex, Max and Tamsyn were keeping me busy threading needles and ironing on little felt pieces, untangling floss, and of course I was as eager to play as they were, so I was making my own little felt community. We thought they might be little pockets or ornaments for the tree. I remember the room was a mess. How can such a little project make such a huge mess? Who cares? It's all in the past, and the good memories, the experience is what remains.

Every time we move, the upheaval is so pervasive that a lot gets lost, misplaced and forgotten... I am not whining. This is an observation. Anyway, my sewing and crafty career has been derailed many, many times and I lose track of what I've done and what supplies I have stashed away. LOL I have way more WIPs than I knew!

I wish I had known the difference between acrylic felt and wool felt when I put the time into these little winter scenes. I was aware that wool is better, but none of our local fabric stores carries the good stuff, and I was enchanted with the color choices and ready affordability of cheap acrylic squares... I'm sure I have 99 acrylic squares packed in another box in the garage! My mind is buzzing and humming with ideas and plans... I want to pick-up a threaded needle and go! I'll meet-up with Julie and Kim and we can all embroider together. Synchronized Stitching! What fun.

OKay, back to cleaning. Just enough to satisfy the board of health... then I am off to find wool felt... tee hee