Monday, December 11, 2017

Evacuate!! Evacuate!! Evacuate Now!

December 5-8, 2017
Santa Clarita, California

Whoop-whoop! Whoop-whoop! This is a mandatory evacuation. Leave the area immediately!

Red Santa Clarita fire engines, green Cal Fire crew trucks, black and white L.A. County Sheriff cars enter the RV park like an invading army. Blue, yellow and red lights flashing, bullhorns blaring, they all push an immediate level of anxiety and fear in front of them. 

Skies that were clear and blue moments ago turn gray, blocking out most of the sunlight. Ash and embers blow down the interior roads, joining the leaves and sticks that have been pelting us for an hour.

The whole world smells like a small house with a blocked fireplace. Soot leaks through every tiny opening.

Hell has found us and we have to move - now!!

Ninety minutes earlier.......

Cousin Cindy checks in to see how we are. Fine, why?  She tells us there's a fire in Ventura County, but we don't see or smell smoke to the west. When Bill steps outside to leave for his doctor's appointment he shows me there is smoke to the east. It looks to be in the hills on the other side of Interstate 5, and it just started. Although the wind is picking up we're both confident it's not an issue, and he heads out.

A short while later he calls to say his appointment is cancelled due to a power outage at the medical center, and he's coming home. He notes that he was directed around road closures on the other side of the interstate. I call Brian (his office is nearby) to tell him about the closures, but he's already at work. He lets me know that their apartment has no power as well (it's close to the medical center). The outage is due to high winds, unrelated to any fire.

60 minutes earlier........

Bill calls to say he can't get back to the park. The interstate is now closed in both directions, as well as two side roads that come here from town. I'm on my own.

As the winds reach 40 mph, pushing the fire in my direction, I call Brian to see if he can get to me before the final road closes between us. Just in case....

He can and does. I pack up the interior, turn on the local news, and fix us some lunch. Bill checks in periodically to confirm he still can't get to us. I let him know there's a little smoke to the south, but otherwise our sky is clear, there's no smell of smoke.

30 minutes earlier.....

Most of the news is about the two fires to our west, and the one south in Sylmar. The Rye Fire (ours already has a name) is mentioned, but it's "the little one" of those that are rapidly devastating much of Southern California.

I put the small chairs in the storage bin, and realize I don't know where the key is to remove the ladder we strap to our steps. This means I can't retract the steps if I want to get the rig out - just in case. After looking in a couple places and talking with Bill about options (he has the key with him), I check and the cable isn't locked. The ladder goes on the picnic table with the big chair - just in case.

And then......

In hindsight, Brian and I had plenty of time to disconnect everything without stressing out, but at the time we're both feeling the pressure of the chaos and urgency that has descended on us. Brian  confirmed with the sheriff that we can take the rig if we hurry. Slides in, utilities unhooked (I've never done this before!), and the brace under the step finally pulled out, I almost forget to retract the jacks (thank goodness for those annoying alarms!). 

As I pull out with Brian following behind, I'm amazed at the number of people in their cars, leaving their homes on wheels behind. I remember later that many are permanent residents with no time to take down all they have set up. I try not to think about those who took off earlier and left their pets behind.

We pass several television vans and reporters set up with their big cameras, filming us evacuating. OMG - we're EVACUATING!

Escaping hell.
I first head west before realizing there's really no where to go this way - and the high wind is as scary as the fire - so we turn around. Passing by the RV park it is surreal to see a row of firefighters making a stand as flames rush down the hills to where our home was just minutes before. A huge wall of smoke bends to the high winds. It looks completely unstoppable. If it changes direction by just a little, the whole park will be gone in a flash.

Fortunately that never happens.

When I let Bill know we are getting out he contacts our friend Scott who has the lot where we've stayed in the past. He lets me know they'll meet me there. Brian heads back to his own place where the power comes back on just as he gets home. I am so grateful for his coming to help me today!!

The traffic clears up as I near the lot, and I'm grateful to have the fire far behind me.
We settle in for the evening - even if the evacuation lifts we're fine here for now. We were checking out on Wednesday anyway so we only need to go back for hoses and the few items I left behind. 

I keep track of the fire online, noting that by 8 PM the RV park is the only evacuation still in effect. It will end up not lifting until the following afternoon. With the winds still high, and hot spots nearby, the danger remains.

This is the perimeter fence for the RV park - the firefighter stands at the back of one of the spaces.

At the base of the hill, 200 yards from where our home was.

Just to the east of the RV park, we are so grateful to these brave firefighters.

Six Flags Magic Mountain was also evacuated. The RV park is to the right of this photo. These four photos from the Santa Clarita Signal.
Although our plans are to be in Mojave for a week, we don't get out of Santa Clarita until Friday morning. The winds continue at 35+ mph with gusts even higher along our route.

We pick up our items at the RV park, talking with our neighbor about their night sleeping in their pickup in the Walmart parking lot while worrying about the fate of their trailer. Some are washing off their rigs, others sweeping aways piles of leaves, it is a very subdued scene. Small smoking hot spots on the nearby hill, and the smell of charcoal are vivid reminders of how lucky everyone is that the wind didn't change direction - it was already way too close.

We attend a "class" for Bill's upcoming cataract surgery. Gives us zero information not already included in the written instructions, and a huge waste of time. He'll be getting improved vision for Christmas this year - both eyes, a week apart.

As we pull out on Friday morning we are grateful that this particular adventure is behind us. It was not on any bucket list, and we hope to never repeat the experience. 

When we set up in Mojave, Bill makes sure I know how all the hookups work, and we add the spare keys to current rings. Just in case.

Five days later the Thomas Fire in Ventura rages north, now threatening Santa Barbara. New fires have burned thousands of acres in Riverside and San Diego counties. The winds have finally died down and firefighters are optimistic that the worst is behind us. So many have lost everything, over 7000 remain under mandatory evacuation. We know how fortunate we are that our story has a happy ending, in no small part thanks to that invading army.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Days Before Hell Breaks Loose

November 27 - December 4, 2017
Santa Clarita, California

Santa Clarita welcomes us back from our weekend away.
As you know if you've been with us for awhile, we belong to a very close group of high school friends who get together annually. In between we all stay in touch on our own Facebook page. That page is responsible for connecting dozens of us over the years. It was started by Stephanie White Soto several years ago, and in addition to working on numerous reunions, she has been responsible for keeping us all in touch.

Sadly we lost Stephanie over the Thanksgiving holiday to her long battle with pulmonary hypertension. Her memorial is Monday in Redlands where we join her family and several other friends from our high school. After the service we gather at a nearby home before we return home. 

I have been coming here for burritos for 38 years, we make a quick stop on our way. Still so good!!
Mike, Max and Bill


So bummed we left before the group photo - all wonderful folks who already miss our Stephanie
We spend the next few days with more appointments and visits with family. As much as we look forward to resuming our travels, this time with family is a blessing.

Tessa gets some cuddle time with Shalise.

PopPop and Ezra

play ball and bat in our tiny yard.

Ezra shows PopPop how to play a game.

I think he's getting it....

Travis and Emily invite us over to see their new apartment - their first :-)

Friday Ezra and I spend the day together.

We spend time at the park - he's very good at math :-)

Sprinklers on a warm day - you can't just walk by!

We play at Target for an hour where Ezra considers a food truck career.
Friday night Brian (my oldest, our number one) picks up his brother Jeff (my youngest, our number four) from the airport. He's here from Seattle for the weekend. It's wonderful to have him back with all of us, but I get very few photos because he's moving back permanently on the 20th!! My goal is to get some family photos over the holiday - wish me luck!

Sunday my borrowed-daughter Megan comes for a visit and Nick (Bill's number one, our number two) is able to join us as well. With Brian, Shalise, Ezra and Jeff here we all enjoy football, beer and chili - and lots of laughs!

Jeff and Brian having a good laugh - probably at me :-)

Megan and Ezra look at photos.

Nick - sometimes we let him visit without Maximus and mommy Jillian - but only sometimes!
Monday morning comes way too quickly, and I'm driving Jeff back to the airport. I'm excited that he'll be back in a couple weeks, and that for awhile our kids will all be in one place. 

My Steelers keep me on the edge of my seat through the whole game, pulling out another last minute win.

Little do we know at the time that the following day will bring way more excitement than we ever want to repeat again!!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Family Gathers in Fresno

November 17-26, 2017
Santa Clarita-Fresno, California

Mommy and Ezra ready for their "ride in the bus" last week.
We've settled into the "being home" mode with days running into each other. 

Richie and girlfriend Gabby bring over breakfast on Friday morning and we enjoy getting caught up with them. They drive away and I remember my camera. I swear I have a mental block about capturing people.

Over the weekend we visit Ezra and his parents, do a little shopping, and watch mid-season (how is it half over?) football. 

A punch of fall color at the post office.
Monday I go to the dentist for a regular check-up. Turns out that whole "flossing everyday" thing really makes a difference :-))) 61 years old and I'm sort of disappointed I didn't get a smiley sticker!

Nick's in-laws are really fun people, and Tuesday evening we meet up with Steve and Denice for tacos and great conversation. We're already looking forward to seeing them again before we leave. You weren't expecting a photo right?

Whether you take Interstate 5 or Highway 99, the drive north from Los Angeles County is dull. Wednesday we leave the Jeep at the RV park and head over Grapevine Pass. It's an easy drive, but as we descend into the Central Valley we're shocked at the black air waiting for us! It's really disgusting to see the level of pollution trapped by the inversion layer. Don't guess we can hold our breath for three days...

Not much heavy traffic, and we're setting up at our cousins Cindy and Kurt's home again. It's a long drive, but so worth it to have our own house when visiting.

Lots of space!
I am an only child and have three cousins I've lost track of over the years. For most of my adult life, family has been my two sons and myself. Marrying into a family of lots and lots of cousins has given me the opportunity to be part of several big gatherings. This Thanksgiving we spend with 30+ great people from four generations! Only one of our sons can make it from SoCal, the rest having plans with other family or living out of state.

Third and fourth generation - they had SO much fun on the bouncy house!
The big boys setting up our dinner seating.

Cousin David decides if Bill is serious....

A delicious spread!

A combination of screens,

and board games kept everybody entertained when indoors. Thanks Oliver - you win the photos for the day!

Harry Potter Clue - Malfoy did it (of course).

Tessa holds down the sofa, waiting for the next human to come pet her.

The youngest, Ellie, stole our hearts.

Enjoying good eats with Jenna and Cindy under sunny skies.

Sterlings and Haleys - Sarah is the shy one......

Another table full inside.

So happy to have mother-son time for the holiday! 93 years old, Anne is our oldest matriarch.
Friday we had a nice gathering of the Gravel branch of the tree - Jessica, Corey, Melissa, Marilynn, Jenna, Bill, Joey, Anne, Lauren, and Noah. Love them all bunches!
We wrap up the evening playing Harry Potter trivia - yes, we're a Hogwarts family :-)))
I hear from Brian that Ezra is swimming in 95 degree weather 'back home'. All my life in California, and hot weather for the holidays still seems wrong.

What a grand time we had with this fun and loving family of ours!!

We load up, visit Anne one last time, and head out after 1:00 on Saturday. Until we get to the pass we avoid any heavy traffic. It's almost 4:00 when we pull back into our site, and we're quickly set up for another couple weeks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Time Slows Down

November 11-16, 2017
Acton-Valencia, California

We're in our old hometown for a combination of necessary appointments and the joy of time with our family. Mostly it's time with Ezra and his parents, but we do get to see Maximus and his folks once too.  If you're tired of grandson pics you can bale now :-) 

Saturday we try a new taco place, meeting Brian, Shalise and Ezra for an early lunch. It's rare to find real tacos without the yucky, fake, formed shells, so we're happy to find good, crispy corn tortillas at Shredded Taco in Santa Clarita.

From there we head to the nearby park where we have fun playing with happy boy and happy dog. The weather is perfect. 

Whatcha got over there Gramma?
Kids and dogs...

When your grandson wants you to hold the Frisbee......
Cooler than all of us.

These double swings are great!
So much fun with Mommy.
The joy of tree bark.

Too soon we need to head out for a birthday dinner two hours away. Our dear friend Michelle is celebrating at a winery in Temecula with her family, and invited us to join them. It turns into nearly three hours with typical southern California traffic. Not that bad when we don't have to do it on a regular basis, and we're not going to work!

Seems like we're either going 70 or 0.7 mph in SoCal.
We have a room to ourselves and enjoy good food and good company, and I fail to take a single photo :-( 

Football takes a backseat to an opportunity to see Maximus on Sunday. Nick and Jillian moved into their new house a couple weeks ago and we get a tour of their dream home. We're so happy for them.

Attempting to "save" Tessa from the backyard.

Sweet face :-))

Clapping to his music - he sings too.

Silly smiles for the camera.
Our time with the little guys is the best part of being home for a few weeks. We also continue to check medical and other appointments off our list. Days run into each other as time slows down a bit with "just life". It's the right time of year for an easier pace, it feels fine. 

Despite our slower pace, work continues just outside our window as the crew lays braces for the solar panels. 
Brian has the great idea that Ezra would probably love going for a ride in PopPop and Gramma's "bus", so he brings him and Shalise to the park on Wednesday morning before he goes to work.

Ezra is not so sure about those walls moving in, but checks out the smaller space with confidence. I'm so mad that I didn't get a pic of he and his mom and Elmo all ready for the big adventure!

Bill drives the Jeep so he can make a quick stop, and the three of us meet him at Valencia Travel Village, where we stayed the last time we were home. It really adds a lot of fun to the trip with a two-year-old cheering "Weeeeeeee" from the back :-)))

Two and a half years on the road, we've never had passengers, and we've never had such a difficult time getting into our spot! Tree trimming blocks our entrance from the "right" side for our pull-through site so I'm forced to come in from the wrong side. This is a crowded, tight park and after side-swiping the short light pole, I make a 26-point turn to get in. Geeez! This would never happen without family on board. We all stay calm through the challenge, get set up and go pick up Brian for lunch.

After dropping off the dad and the PopPop, Shalise, Ezra and I run around for a couple hours before I take them home. 

Bill gets his cataract surgery dates, and Thursday I make more reservations through Christmas. We'll see how slow feels after another six weeks :-)

Looking forward to more of this!