Saturday, May 17, 2014

What a Relief!

We woke up to a view of fog, and with a greater sense of relief. The fires are not out, but they are getting under control. Evacuations are being lifted! There is a lot of well deserved praise and gratitude being stated for the united efforts of Cal Fire, and for the changes in fire fighting efforts that were put in place after the chaos and confusion of previous county fires. A lot was lost in this week, but a lot more is being saved, and it's good to realize this.

We still need to equip our firefighters with modern capabilities and technology... in this changing climate, we cannot afford to cut budgets where public safety is concerned. One way, or another, we will pay. As those winds die down, the humidity rises, and everything cools off, I hope we will remember that there are still first responders out there, and they are giving everything they can to defend our homes and lives.

We need levity and distraction! We are not at Maker Faire. (Insert a picture of our crestfallen, bewildered faces here.) It was a decision based on very full school schedules, but as it turns out, this May Firestorm would have made it a tough adventure to pull off, so in some ways we are happy we chose to stay in town. (But, please do note my mature and rational tone, is a thin veneer, barely covering the crushing disappointment, and envy of friends who are attending. Woe, woe, woe is we.)

Have you figured out that this random assortment of pictures is just that: a random assortment of pictures! I up loaded images from my iPhone. They make a happy gallery, reminding me of the silly, odd, interesting, inspiring, and good things that I have noticed and appreciated since April.

Cactus blooms, seen on an evening walk.

Our new friend, who changes hats, daily, and sits at the dining table.

School spirit, and friendly nonsense.

Foo. Dear, dear Washburn Foo.

And this. Chango, a bit bent out of shape. Can he represent our will to persevere, to endure, in spite of setbacks, indignities, trials, and the things life can do to put us out of sorts? We carry on, we move forward, and we laugh. Hopefully, we laugh.

It might drizzle on Tuesday. Yes! Yes. Yes. I would so very much love a gorgeous drizzle.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bird House & Barn

...a Farm Report

You may have heard we are having some fires in San Diego County, most of them in North County, our neck of the woods. Everything started Wednesday morning, and sadly we didn't have much doubt that the "optimal" conditions would attract abhorrent behavior, like arson. For a couple of days we have had record high temperatures, and compounding the danger: high winds... the Santa Ana winds that blow in powerful gusts, from east to west. They are hot and dry, and can fan even a small spark into a Firestorm. Our area is susceptible, but the fire season opening in May, instead of October... this is unprecedented, and distressing. We may be in for an awful summer and fall.

We do what we can to stay safe, and comfortable. Children, the elderly, and our pets are big concerns. Schools are closed. The air quality is lousy, the heat is dangerous, some schools are evacuation centers, we need the roads to stay clear for emergency vehicles. We are advised to stay indoors, to keep windows closed. Air conditioning? Not as common here, where we usually don't have much need for it. A friend posted on FB that her home was a toasty 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The smell of smoke is strong, even miles from the fire... I was woken by such a strong smell of smoke, I jumped out of bed, thinking our own yard must be on fire. Stress! I've seen worse, but it's eerie seeing everything coated in a fine dusting of ash, sooty.

And what can we do for our animals? Some schools, shelters, and even stores, like Petco, have been opening their doors to animals that have been evacuated. It's a challenge to accommodate the larger animals, and many parts of our county are home to horses, and livestock, so in fires, there is always need for help with this issue. Where people are sheltering in place, or just waiting things out, like us, it's really important to take our own precautions, and extra precautions for our pets, especially the kind that live outdoors.

This was the view, looking north-east from our yard. It was around midday, and the Cocos Fire was flaring up again, as afternoon winds began kicking up. The darkest smoke indicates new burn. At this point the fire was being fanned by wind gusts, and also creating its own wind, so it had become wildly unpredictable... a real hardship for our firefighters.

And seeing flames, in the bright daylight? Not a good thing. Those are huge walls of fire, and in these moments, it was plain to see they were pushing our way.

Though we are miles away from the Cocos Fire, the concern is embers blowing, these fires can jump from point to point, travel the canyons and open spaces. It's not too alarmist to recognize the potential of these fires quickly moving into new areas.

This column of smoke is north and east of us, and being blown west.

96 degrees, and dry, dry, dry. These are some h0t chicks.

And this is a h0t bun. Poor Malcolm. Poor chickens. Poor goats!

Ada and Tasha, in the shade. I asked them to look pitiful for the camera.

Tasha rolled back her eyes, and looked at me with a woeful nod.

Ada, not to be outdone, flopped her head over, and belched.

Poor goaters. We kept their water cooled down with ice, and brought them cool cabbage, and crisp apples. They have shade, and we let them free-range in their larger enclosure, so they could choose new spots to lounge in.

For the chickens and the rabbits... I add ice to the hutch, and they sit beneath the wire mesh and shake and shiver under the melting ice. Then I turn our hose bib on, only a bit... it kind of has an ideal malfunction: the water sprays horizontally, with a spritzing effect. This mist spreads out across their enclosure, and makes the heat a lot more bearable.

Malcolm Rabbit, getting his cooling spritz.

One moment everyone is listless, panting, and weary, and seconds later they perk up.

Emma Thompson, standing in the cool mist, returns to scratching, and pecking, and feeling like a cool chick, again.

Even Malcolm Rabbit came out of his stupor, ate some cabbage, and parked his face into the spray.

Orange, again, but not flames, this time. Maybe you can make out a teeny white speck to the right and above the fire retardant? Seeing the helicopters and Supertankers drop as much as 12,000 gallons of water and fire retardant is an amazing sight.

Another drop. The air support for putting out the fires has been a huge boon.

And there's no way we can forget the work and dedication of the men and women working on the ground. Firefighters from all over California are here to help with the many fires burning in San Diego County, and local volunteers are saving homes, too... special shout-out to George S, in his first season with the Elfin Forest crew! We feel profound gratitude for all of these efforts and support.

The sky is so deep and blue, and there's not a cloud to be seen. But, we would love some clouds, a deep thick marine layer, some fog! Bring it on May Gray!

And here at the Bird House, who suffers most of all?? Oh, darling Foo! He has succumbed to the heat, the smoke, the short supply of tuna! Poor, poor kitty. Poor polka spotted Dalmatian kitty.

{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

Alex, William, Natalie, Maria, Max, and Ruth :: The Cave at La Jolla Shell Shop :: Mother's Day

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Still Uncomfortable

Less wind, that's the improvement we are thankful for today. It will be a hotter day. We are breaking heat records, here. The two fires that are uncomfortably close are the Poinsettia Fire, and definitely the Coco's Fire. Both are visible from our home, but it was the Coco's Fire that I was watching all night. It's hard to sleep when out the bedroom window the sky is aglow, and the hills are in flames. Whenever I started to think about how nervous or stressed I felt, I gave my thoughts and prayers to the firefighters working all night to get the upper hand, and all the thousands of families evacuated. We are on edge and cautious, but relatively safe.

It's Throwback Thursday? I can't help but think back to the (too) many times we have faced evacuations, and great distress because of California fires. We are susceptible, true, but it is infuriating to think that a lot of these "wild" fires are because of arson, and reckless behaviors.

Alex and William were little guys in 1996, when hot embers were landing on our roof from the Harmony Grove Fire. We packed our car, and I took the boys to my mom and dad's place in San Diego. I couldn't convince Geoff to put down the hose, and come with us, but he probably saved our little home, with the wood shingle roof.

The Cedar Fire, 2003, shutdown the freeways the very day movers were supposed to come and pack us for our move. We were surrounded by fire, trying to pack and move, and were eventually evacuated. The ashes fell like snow on the house, and escrow was delayed just days from closing. But our setbacks and fears were nothing compared with the loss of lives. After this one, fires became something that I pay very close attention to.

Four years later, and the entire county was engulfed. The Witch Creek Fire, Harris Fire... there were so many we could hardly keep track. This one, incredibly, was even more destructive than the Cedar Fire. Thankfully, we were able to evacuate to Holly and Rich's home, but even there we thought we might wind up paddling in the Bay, to escape the encroaching fires.

In 2008 there were wildfires all over northern California, and somehow, I managed to get caught in the midst of those, too! With the four children, and three chickens in the minivan, I was driving home from seeing my mom and dad in Oregon. It was when Delia had been hit by street racing potheads, north of Santa Rosa... awful, awful event, and on the way back to So Cal, I had to keep driving, 13 hours, from Fortuna, to Atascadero... every motel and hotel was booked or being used as a fire fighting base stations because of all the fires. Geoff was searching for a place for us to stay from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara! The drive was surreal... flames, smoke, and evacuees for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

After all that? I cannot be surprised that Alex took the initiative to gather supplies, and assemble bail out bags for each of us, and extras for each vehicle! He and Maria spent weeks putting these together last summer. It turns out that disaster preparedness and zombie apocalypse preparedness have a lot in common... seriously! Alex really took his task to heart, and Maria learned new, helpful skills in the process, too. Every region has its own concerns and needs, and I hope you will take the time to make your own bail out bag, and be prepared!

Alex brought our bags out of the closet and they were lined up on the kitchen counter, along with some tasty nacho cheese. The fires are miles away, but the high winds, and the wind gusts, move embers from east to west... new fires can start anywhere in the wind's path, especially when we are in single digit humidity. Nacho cheese? Oh yeah... that's in _Queso_ emergency! It's _Nacho_ place to judge! Humor, even bad puns, in a crisis, is fundamental to survival!

*Don't mean to exactly dwell on these fires... I think on them with relief to have moved passed them, and gratitude. But they were huge events, at the time, and it's interesting to recall the craziness, and resolve to cope and thrive. Is it like this in other situations... do you recall the tornadoes, or blizzards, the earthquakes you rode out? I cannot deny that the memories have begun to feel like merit badges I can proudly wear on my life-scouting sash. I just don't need to collect any more new ones!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So Cal Fires: Safe But Uncomfortable

Out on errands, looking north... too close for comfort

Yesterday our eyes were fixed on the Bernardo Fire, which, as of this morning, has consumed 1600 acres. It's about eight miles east of our view, but the wind seemed to be blowing more toward the south, and thankfully, they seem to have it more contained than not. Still, residents are asked to stay on "high alert." It's hard not to be on high alert. Today we are watching two more fires, new ones to the north of us. We know friends and family are preparing to be evacuated, and we know how that feels... it's nerve-racking stuff. Our neighborhood schools have been messaging the families to reassure us. After-school programs are cancelled, lunch was taken indoors. It's 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind is dry, and hard blowing. This the crud we anticipate in the fall, not for our typically Gray May.

In all practical ways, I can remain calm and rational, but having evacuated from three close-calls before, I cannot say this gets any easier. My respect for wind and fires, for flying embers has only grown, and I know this is a perilous time. Our public servants, especially the firefighters, are in my best thoughts and thankful prayers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Grew Lasagna

It all started with the lasagna dinner Bambi and Alex prepared for us. Max and Bambi are taking Culinary Arts, a program already earning awards for their school, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of their sweet skills. The vegetarian dish was such a huge hit with everyone, we planted carrots, basil, squash, and zucchini for future lasagnas! Even the chickens pitched in, providing fresh eggs for our feast.

I just, barely, gave the squash and zucchini enough growing time before attempting to make my first ever lasagna. We gave Alex a mandolin slicer for Christmas... Oh my gosh is that ever a sweet tool! I whizzed through the slicing part of the recipe, with darling little squash rounds all ready for sautéing. (Seriously handy device. Not a paid endorsement, and pretty sure we found ours on sale.) But to tell the truth, the rest of the adventure was a little more daunting, it being new territory for me. A few times, like when layering the pasta, I called Alex to my side, and anxiously asked, "Did yours look like this??" And no! No, theirs did not look like mine, and he was gentle and reassuring, but somehow I was managing to take the same recipe they used and make something new of it. For instance: Alex asked, a bit panicked, "You didn't boil the pasta? And my heart did the tarantella! Because I hadn't boiled the pasta, and there it was, hard as uncooked pasta, and already covered in ricotta with basil! But guess what... Trader Joe's brand lasagna doesn't need to be boiled, it cooks in the dish. Sigh!

Even though I felt kerfuffled a few times, after a bit, I resigned myself to the fact that it would be close to impossible to ruin a dish that is layers of sautéed veggies with cheese, cheese, pasta, sauce, and cheese! Come on! This had to be fool proof, right? I covered it in foil, and put it in the fridge to be baked the next day when we got to Pasadena. Because, yes... not only was I making this as a Mother's Day gift for my mom, grandmother and aunts, I was daring to make them guinea pigs to my experiment! Risky, risky business!

We grew a lasagna! It worked! You really can layer veggies, pasta, cheese, cheese, sauce, and cheese, and bake it! It was delicious and bubbly, and the corners were crunchy, which is highly desirable in my estimation. What a relief! We had it in my aunt's oven, 400 degrees fahrenheit, and I was timing it, but then I was also guessing since I had made it about 3X bigger than the recipe was written for. My aunt, sweetly, gently asked, "Do you want to check it?" And I replied, "Ah, that's alright. I checked it five minutes ago. It needs more time." I was sounding so confident. But then Becky set me straight, "Natalie, uh, I think you really want to check it, now!" It was about to erupt, a Lasagna Mount Vesuvius!

Do you want the recipe? Because, I have an actual recipe! And if you've made lasagna before, then you'll probably wonder what my kerfuffle was all about... it's a pretty straight forward recipe, and I am looking forward to making it again.

• Two 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
• One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess moisture squeezed out
• 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
• 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan
• 1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 yellow onion, diced
• 3/4 cup shredded carrot
• 1 yellow squash, diced
• 1 zucchini, diced
• 6 cups store-bought or homemademarinara sauce
• 12 (no-boil!) lasagna noodles (8 ounces)

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

• In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, salt and pepper. Add the spinach and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, combine the mozzarella, Parmesan and basil.

• Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add the carrots, yellow squash and zucchini, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and drain off any excess liquid.

• Spread a third of the marinara sauce over the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread a third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles,
followed by a third of the cooked vegetables.
Sprinkle with a third of the shredded cheese mixture.
Repeat to make two more layers, ending with the shredded cheese mixture on top.
Cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil and bake 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Five Good Things

Big changes are happening. Happening for my family in Pasadena... the ripples are spreading out from there, and we are all feeling the shift. My aunt Becky and Grandmother Eunice are leaving California. I can only begin to imagine what this means for them, for my cousins. We can see what wonderful opportunities are opening up, but it cannot be easy for them to take these steps, in this new direction. For as long as I can remember, I've always had an aunt Becky in Los Angeles, and growing up, that's always felt like a second home, a base. It still does... but not for much longer. Gee, I hope my cousins have floor space for a favorite prima, and her mokos, in their new place.

The day we went to see everyone, Pasadena was too kind. It was a beautiful day, and the garden was inviting. We shared lunch under the grape arbor, catching up with uncle Henry and Aunt Eva. Maria filled her notebook with her naturalist's sketches of her aunt Becky's fruit trees, and plants. My Mommy came from Oregon, staying to help tie up loose ends. Henry and Eva have been working, practically tirelessly, and most productively... the house looks tip top. And aunt Becky? It was good to see her relaxed, and to know that some very nice, new, adventures await her and Grandmother.

In fact, the only thing wrong with the visit... it was too short. I hope to squeeze in one last visit before everything is finalized. Actually, thinking about this was the only thing that kept me from crying. Next time, I will cry. It cannot be helped. The whole drive north, I thought about how tied I feel to Los Angeles, to my aunt and cousins, to the memories our family has made there. Growing up, there were times we would spend three weekends a month visiting, and weeks in the summer. I was born there. My brother was born there. My mother's stories, the ones I loved to hear over and over, played out in Los Angeles, around the rails, the River, the library, Downtown. Odd thing... if I talk about driving through L.A., it's a hideous, traffic horror. It is a sprawling, hot mess, that city. But if I stop somewhere, walk the tree lined streets, visit the familiar spots, the old places that are connected to the stories I have heard around the dining table, then Los Angeles is dear, and rich, it is a layer cake, with delicious familiar sights, and gorgeous colors, and it nurtures my soul. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, te quiero. I love you, because history, my own, and my families', connect us.

As a child, I imagined that my own children would have many of the same experiences that I grew up with, and sometimes I catch myself still believing that I can hand them those moments that I knew, that shaped me. It rarely works that way, I suppose. We don't visit an abuelo, Big Al, in his shop on Olvera Street. Grandmother doesn't have a cold pool on Workman Mill Road. No more Sunday school at Alhambra First Baptist Church, or reunions at El Salvador. Fourth of July in the street, in front of Aunt Becky's house, lighting everything on fire, screaming with my cousins, is a bright memory. I can practically feel watermelon juice dripping down our arms. Our pets, our giggles, our Christmas wishes, and new shoes, bicycling, swimming, making tamales... those memories are vivid, still, and I know it must be because they are some of the best, and I have always wanted the best for my own children, too.

Maybe they don't know Los Angeles, the way I did... William, Alex, Max, and Maria... a little bit, in many ways, Los Angeles is part of you, too, because it's a part of your family history and it connects you. Someday, you might realize it is a familiar place, and I hope you will have a happy feeling for good times we have enjoyed there. The better part is that, though places may be dear, family is what really matters, and wherever your family is, wherever you can share memories, and make new memories, you will enjoy what is best in life, and even the big changes will not be so difficult to manage.

Good Things...

1. Family meals, the company, the stories, all the kinds of nurturing that comes around tables.

2. Drawing happy memories from childhood, and enjoying the bittersweet realization that those moments are gone.

3. Anticipating summer... travels, visits, family, and new moments.

4. Mothers. Women who nurture. Aunts, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, spirited, mild, wild, devoted, caring women.

5. Watching my nine year old daughter, and my ninety-two year old grandmother, pouring over the pages of a Calvin and Hobbes book, together, laughing... the best.

Share your good things, please. I love to hear from you, you know.