Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer: Extended Version

Today was supposed to be the first day of school but due to the horrid air quality it was postponed. Tomorrow was supposed to be the first day of school but due to the horrid air quality it was postponed again.

So our summer is being extended, but at this point even the kids are ready to go back. The last few days haven't exactly been FUN, but I did manage to get a play date for everyone today and pulled together the Back-To-School Feast tonight. (A wonderful idea stolen from NieNie's Dialogues.) I knew I wouldn't be able to cook up a storm with all the unpacking and my low energy level, so the menu was all Trader Joe's appetizers which turned out to be pretty tasty. (Spanokopita, mini meatballs, ham and cheese puffs, coconut curry chicken sticks with plum sauce, veggies and dip, sparkling blueberry juice, sparkling french berry lemonade and mango mochi balls for dessert. Not bad.)

We moved back in to our house yesterday evening after our very short stay at Grandma's house. We almost wished the evacuation weren't lifted so soon because we had just settled in. We had 2-1/2 vans worth of stuff we had loaded and unloaded already and now we had to load and unload it all again. Without the adrenaline rush that comes from impending death it was a little rough getting motivated to move back in and unpack everything again so soon. (It was kind of fun to sleep there too. It reminded me of when we were on vacation during med school and residency before we moved here. Not quite the same circumstances.)

I was happy our house didn't smell as bad as I thought it would, but there is another flare up not that far from us again and it is really smelling bad tonight. But I am in my undamaged home so I certainly can't complain. 75 homes have burned down and one of them belonged to a 15 year old girl in the class I teach at church. All the other girls and leaders are pitching in to help supply her and her sister with more school clothes and supplies. I just can't even imagine.

The fire doubled in size last night. It has burnt over 105,000 acres so far and they don't think they will have it contained for another week. At times like this it becomes brutally clear how powerless we really are against nature. Life really is fragile (especially for the two idiots that tried to ride out the fire storm in a hot tub in their back yard - honestly) and that was felt today when we learned of two fire fighters that were killed. I have so much more respect for them now that I have seen them in action and felt my own immediate need for their help. It is amazing what they do.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer: The Last Days

The last few days have been surreal. We woke up yesterday morning to find our house full of smoke to the point that it was uncomfortable to breathe. The fire was still far enough away that we weren't too worried, especially based on the fact that all the evacuations were still voluntary and a couple of minutes away from us by car. Brandon went to work and I spent the day at home with the kids because I didn't want to go somewhere if we got the message from the city to evacuate. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and my sister-in-law Shauna and I swapped some of our kids so they wouldn't be so bored. (They are just one street over from us and back up to a canyon so she was wanting to stay home too.) It was just like every other day except for the smoke, roaring helicopters and planes overhead and the ash falling down all around us. At one point the kids were watching Chicken Little and the R.E.M. song "It's the End of the World As We Know It" came on. You know the next line: "and I feel fine . . ." That's what it was like. Totally surreal.

Since the genius mother of the house cut the cable this summer I was glued to my laptop and am radio for information. I was also taking occasional trips over a few streets to keep an eye on the fire and see how it was moving. Brandon came home early from work at 5pm and we talked about packing up but it seemed like a lot of work for an area that wasn't even in voluntary evacuation. We were both exhausted since the smoke woke us up that morning at about 5am so I went to bed early after extracting a promise from Brandon that he would set his alarm every hour on the hour to check the city website for updates. (He's the grown up of the house that can function in the middle of the night. Residency changed him forever.)

The baby woke up at 4am with a bad dream and after getting her back to sleep I got up to find Brandon at the computer checking out the update. Immediate, mandatory evacuation up to our cross street, two houses away. Close enough for me. We started packing.

I had already been thinking about this the previous two days of course so I knew exactly what I did and did not want to take. I just didn't anticipate how much it would amount to. Bins of photos. Bins of stuff from our missions in Japan. Bins of childhood memories. Bins of important papers and documents. Personal journals. Family journals. Family videos. Camera, video camera, phones, ipods, computer. Framed pictures off the walls like our wedding picture and the big black and white photograph of Yosemite Valley taken by one of Brandon's patients back in the 50's when he was doing an internship with Ansel Adams. I left my wedding dress and the children's baby blessing gowns. (I have pictures after all.) I grabbed my grandma's recipe book as well as the Raggedy Ann doll she made me.

Brandon woke the two older kids up around 4:30 to get going and help. They would not be denied their prized possessions either. We were moving pretty fast and not totally monitoring what they were packing. We knew Kate would insist on her extensive shell, fossil, rock and bug collection. I insisted she get all her artwork. Will wanted his first place Little League trophy and game ball, but it wasn't until tonight that we also realized he brought his 8 lb. 10 oz. "rice baby" of himself - a project they did in kindergarten three years ago! Elizabeth brought her poodle in a purse and her baby (with bib and sippy cup). Rachael was oblivious to the entire thing of course and only wanted time and attention. Both were scarce.

By 6:00 I went to see the fire and found it really close above us and to the east of us. We are about two blocks away from open mountain in both directions and the fire was freely burning in both places. For some reason they have not been running the helicopters and planes at night (and the ground crews can't access the mountains because of the steep and rocky terrain) so the last two nights the fire has just been doing what it wanted to. We were still not under mandatory evacuation so we kept packing, took one van load down to Brandon's parent's house and finally started packing up more immediate essentials like clothing and toiletries. It's amazing what you just don't care about in the end. Furniture, most books, clothes, sports equipment, kitchen stuff. It's just that, stuff.

Around 10:30 I was starting to feel a little panicked when the reverse 911 mandatory evacuation call came. I could hear the police officers with bull horns outside around the same time. Everyone was moving out, the planes and helicopters were back and thundering immediately overhead. Ash was covering everything. Fire trucks and police cars were speeding all around. The kids had wet bandanas over their noses and mouths. War of the Worlds. Time to go. I ran back in the house for a binky of all things and when I came back out it was like a scene from a movie: the car battery was dead. Not kidding. So. Not. Kidding. An officer came by again to tell us to get out and when I asked him how long we had he said the last time they went around the block the fire was 200 yards from the nearest home and now it was 100 yards. (I failed to mention that the Deodor Pines our neighborhood is famous for are full of oil so they do not burn - they EXPLODE! We have ten huge ones on our property.)

Brandon got out the jumper cables and got to work on the battery. Every second seemed like an hour at this point. Brandon couldn't find the place to attach the cables in his car since it is new and from a different maker. I'm dying. I'm sure the entire process took under 5 minutes and for the sake of the kids I kept up my persistently calm facade, but internally I wanted to scream like a maniac and start running. As we were pulling out, my last-of-the-Mohicans neighbor told me to leave my door open in case the fire fighters needed to get in. I decided to let them break it down if necessary because at this point I was also worried about the looters. (Todd and Shauna later told us that as they were leaving there were three young guys with a U-Haul coming down their street.)

We finally got out of there and came down to my in-law's house who live in town but much farther away from the mountains. For the first two or three hours I felt like a zombie coming off all that adrenaline and the lack of sleep both nights. We healed our wounds a little with some In-n-Out and then Todd and Shauna came over with their kids to swim. (They were evacuated too and went to her parents in town.) That was another surreal moment. Splashing and playing in the pool, we realized there was ash everywhere in the water. It was so hot (triple digits) and the kids really needed to play so we just kept swimming as the planes and helicopters buzzed in the distance. As we cooled off in the pool I kept thinking about those firemen up there in their heavy suits contending with that fire to protect my home. To protect the homes of thousands of people they didn't even know. All while I was swimming safely in a pool.

Just a week ago we were at a family camp in the green Utah mountains and the kids put on a performance about "everyday heroes" which included fire fighters.

I didn't think anything of it at the time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer: THREE DAYS!!

Wow. Too much to catch up on.

I can't go to sleep because I feel compelled to refresh the city website every five minutes to see if there is a change in the fire situation. We live in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains amid tons and tons of Deodor Pines and there is a fire blazing in the mountains behind us. I just took the baby for a drive to maybe get her to sleep and to check out the fire. Our cars were covered in ash and the air smells like a campfire. We are about a two minute drive from the Angeles Crest Highway which goes right through our town and the fire is up that crest in the Angeles National Forest which butts up against our town. Johnson's Camp is up there so I am wondering about the Johnson's tonight. When I drove over to the crest it was swamped with police cars blocking the highway, fire trucks coming and going (helicopters have been going over head all day long as well) and hordes of parked cars and people everywhere with cameras and video cameras. I went back to get Brandon so he could see it and I taped a bit myself. It is strange to see nature like that up close. Scary beautiful. The flames were huge and engulfing a large area on the upper part of the mountain. If there were wind I would be really worried because the flames are high. I'm wondering if the Johnson's and others living up there have been evacuated. There is another fire behind the mountain closer to us, but from what I have read there is a fire break up there and so far it is holding.

Just checked the website again. They've been evacuated. I'm going for another drive to see how fast the fire is moving and my husband is putting on his pajamas to watch an episode of MASH . . .

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer: less than 3 weeks

I'm hiding in my bedroom. And for good reason. I have 8 children in my not very large home today and I spent the morning cleaning up last night's dinner dishes (I'm not fond of grocery shopping with any let alone all of my kids so I went immediately after dinner last night while Brandon got everyone in bed), picking up Kate and a friend from tennis class, dropping Will off at his best friend's house (he's Indian and has been in India all summer long so this was a happy reunion), getting gas, stopping by the Asian grocery store for onions, Asian pear and East West salad dressing (there was none), and taking "the girls" to Juice It Up. Not a bad day by any means, but when I got home around 11:30 I found my mailbox had been relieved of it's contents by someone other than myself. The flag was still up but the mail carrier hadn't come yet and my mailbox that held over 10 bills with hefty checks included was EMPTY! WHO DOES THAT?

I spent the next hour off and on the phone with my bank discussing canceled checks, identity theft and a new checking account. Not to mention I need to contact the 9 online business that I have automatic billing with and re-write the 10 checks that were stolen even though I no longer have the envelopes and payment slips that come with the bills. This was going on while kids swirled all around me voicing requests or complaints while I made lunch and cleaned up breakfast dishes.

We are leaving town on Friday and I really don't know when I'm going to make all those calls. Maybe I should be doing that right now but I'm hiding. Hiding is infinitely easier than trying to make business-y phone calls with kids underfoot. I need a secretary, or a wife at the very least. That's what I always tell my husband: I need a wife. Someone to take care of the house and kids so I can get some things done that would require office hours and a staff of people for anyone besides a full time mother.

I'm starting to get the same feeling I used to get in the summer when I was a kid and I was spending a lot of time with the same friend day after day. I just want to read my Judy Blume book and work on my friendship bracelets all by myself in my own room.

Back to the kids . . .

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer: 29 Days (Marathon Field Trip Week)

I haven't been blogging much because I've been BUSY chipping away at my summer bucket list! Last week we didn't have a single, solitary appointment worth keeping (okay, we went to the orthodontist on Tuesday . . .) so we had a "field trip week" and went bananas. Every day was a lot of fun, but I am tired now, so today is our first ever jammies and movies day. No one is actually watching a movie right now but the three older kids are still in their jammies and loving every minute of it. They are so easy to please!

A run down of last week. Monday was our lemonade stand which I already posted. Tuesday we had the orthodontic appointment so I didn't want to stray too far. We lucked out and got invited by my sister in law to go with her and her kids to her grandparents' pool. One of the great things about living in southern California is that it's not too hard to know someone who knows someone who has a really great pool. Half of the beauty of this pool is it's location overlooking Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. (Great spot for fireworks on the 4th!) My kids just know it's fun.

Rachael is becoming a binky addict. I've got to do something about that.

See the slide behind them? So fun.

And there is the amazing view you can't fully appreciate from this picture.
(Did any of you do this weird thing with your hair when you were young girls? We always called it the Betsy Ross for some reason.)

On Tuesday night I had my annual sleepover with the 14-15 year old girls I teach at church. We had a lot of fun making gourmet pizzas in a real outdoor brick oven, kidnapping a new 14 year old, dressing her up in a Twister mat costume and sending her into the grocery store to buy toilet paper. (I don't know WHAT the toilet paper was for!!)

I got about four hours of sleep and then got up to take my kids to Riley's Farm in San Bernandino County about an hour and a half away.

When I was a little girl, I LOVED Little House on the Prairie. Maybe because I had so many fond memories of my own grandparent's farm, maybe because life back then seemed so simple, innocent and fun. Whatever the reason, I am a sucker for any type of living history farm where I can go and get a flavor for life as it used to be "back then". (I know, getting frozen chicken breasts from Trader Joe's is way simpler than killing a chicken, feathering it, skinning it, gutting it and cooking it over a fire on a hot summer day. Just let me live the dream, okay?) So we played Little House on the Prairie all day Wednesday at Riley's Farm.

It was a marathon, but worth every minute.
First we hopped on the hay ride to go pick raspberries:

William was NOT into the bees and thorns so he stayed with Rachael in the shade of a tree. This was helpful since Rachael wasn't into berry picking as much as berry eating.

Never mind the computer to the left of Elizabeth. So authentically 18th century.

Riley's Farm has a series of activities you can sign up for throughout the day so we packed in as many as possible. After berry picking and a little lunch, the kids got to make their own little apple pies from scratch.

Then we did paper making. . .

Colonial games . . .

archery . . .

and the much anticipated tomahawk throwing class. Doesn't this look safe?

We had a little time in between classes just to roam around too.

I gotta get one of these:

By the time we left our feet were filthy, everyone was hot and sticky and the baby had already fallen asleep in the car (during tomahawk throwing) and was now awake. It was getting close to rush hour and I was feeling the effects of my four hours of sleep so I was anxious to get the show on the road. I bought the kids a bunch of orange soda to cool off before the drive. Halfway through the drive and when we were in the middle of nowhere Elizabeth's orange soda came a calling. She had to go NOW. They say necessity if the mother of all invention and let me share with you the brainstorm I had in my moment of need: one of Rachael's diapers. I will spare you the details but it worked like a charm.

On Thursday, Brandon was home in the afternoon so we took off for the beach.

We ate some overpriced Mexican food at the end of Santa Monica pier after the sun went down. At night the lights turn on at the mini amusement park on the pier making it a really fun atmosphere.

On FRIDAY we went with my sister in law, Shauna, and her kids to the Natural History Museum. In the summer they have a pavilion full of live butterflies outside the museum where all the little ice cream vendors hang out.

We were just about to leave when this butterfly landed on Nicole. Gotta love the "hands on" room.
Kate has a serious collection of rocks, mineral, shells, and bugs at home so her favorite gallery by far at the museum is the rocks, gems and minerals gallery. This is just a little table full in the hands on room.

Can't resist these next two photo ops.

Notice Rachael only has one shoe on. Honestly, I could have sworn I put her in the car with both of her beloved yellow crocs on, but when we arrived at the museum she only had on ONE of Elizabeth's pink crocs. Go figure. Luckily, she stayed in the stroller most of the day.

That's it! It's now Tuesday and besides our jammies and movie day we have gone swimming twice, made raspberry shakes from our hand picked raspberries, gorged on corn on the cob, strawberries and plums from the Farmer's Market, made two kinds of homemade cookies as well as MUDDY BUDDIES. (If you haven't had muddy buddies you haven't lived.)

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