Posts Tagged ‘California’

November 16, 2018


Haze from the Smoke

Last year it was a big deal when the air quality index (AQI) reached 150. Today it topped out around 300, shattering records.

And I still don’t have the air purifiers I talked about getting. [Insert Expletives].

And the air is going to stay this way until Saturday next Tuesday. [Insert More Expletives].

The fire that first got me thinking about purchasing air purifiers was just a little brush fire, easily handled by the fire department and out the same day. No need to rush into a purchase, I told myself, I had time to do research first. Not all purifiers are equally good at handling all particulate matter in all spaces, and if I could fine one that worked well with wild fire smoke and pollen all the better.

When the Camp Fire started last week, the original prediction was the air would start to improve by this past Tuesday, so I didn’t feel pressured to act quickly. AQI was bad, but the standard bad that we’ve grown used to the past couple of years. Instead of improving, however, the air quality worsened. Schools closed in anticipation that the AQI reaching Hazardous levels.

I wasn’t surprised to discover the local big box stores were sold out of purifiers. The air quality had been teetering between “Unhealthy” and “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” for a week. I was shocked that even online giants are completely sold out. With wild fires burning across the state, however, even Amazon is struggling to keep inventory.

I am so mad at myself, and so worried about our little lungs. I waited to buy and we are all paying the price for it now.

We are doing what we can to lessen the impact of the smoke. Being inside helps, but the particulate matter still works its way inside over time. The smoke is blocking out the sun, keeping the temperature a good ten degrees colder than it would otherwise be. With the lows in the thirties we have no choice but to run the HVAC and I have yet to figure out if or how to use recycled air. We’re running it as little as possible.

Four more days.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. My eyes and throat burned, my head ached. The kids were getting up nearly constantly with similar complaints. I was lying in bed, browsing social media at 2:40am when someone posted that Amazon was selling the Coway air purifier again, one of the most consistently highly rated purifiers. I didn’t wait. I didn’t price check. It won’t ship for another two days, and won’t make it here until after the smoke is supposed to abate. I’m not taking any more chances. Good thing too, by the morning it was sold out again.

October 17, 2018

An Unnatural Hue

I didn’t think much of it when I noticed a strange orange color casting taking photos of the kids outside.

I didn’t think much of it when I saw the wild turkeys, and, rather than appear indifferent to my presence like they always do, they scrambled to get away.

I didn’t think much of it when I smelled the smell of barbecue. Or maybe that was a fire in a fireplace I was smelling?

It wasn’t until Domingo pointed the sky line that I realized a wild fire was burning nearby.

It’s subtle, but the dried grass is a little more orange and a little less yellow in the above photograph than on a typical day.

I’ve lived in California now for nearly a decade and a half. Domingo longer. We plan for earthquakes. I never thought when I moved here I’d have to have an emergency wild fire plan as well. Four of the last three years there’s been a wild fire burning close enough to us to severely hamper the air quality. I’ve lost count of the actual fires.

It’s time to rethink our emergency plans.

Air purifiers – Last year I was pregnant during a time the air quality was unhealthy. I’d feel winded simply driving from our home to daycare. We joked that I was the family’s canary in the coal mine: I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache. Domingo would whip out the phone and – yup – AQI just spiked to 150+.

Being pregnant during a wildfire is something I’ll never have to experience again, but it made me acutely aware of how miserable reduce long capacity and poor air quality can be. I also worry about the long term effects on the little lungs in our family.

Our plan is a small room air purifier for each bedroom. If nothing else, may the smoke not interrupt the kids’ sleep!

Escape plan – I’m the kind of person who wants to have an idea of what to grab in case the evacuation order comes. The sad reality is that the fires in recent years were moving too fast to allow for that. We could find ourselves in a situation where I’m crouched in the back row of the minivan trying to buckle the kids in their seats while Domingo drives us away from the flames.

Time permitting, I’ll grab the local copy of my photos and other data backup since that’s just unplugging a single USB cable and grabbing a single hard drive. Possessions can be purchased again. Even birth certificates can be reordered.

As terrifying as a forced evacuation can be for adults, it’s scarier for kids. The second item on my grab list is the kids’ lovey.

As much as I’d love to save keepsakes, I don’t think that’s a practical expectation. The kids’ footprints, travel souvenirs, wedding mementoes. It’s all too scattered around the house. I tried to scan anything flat into the computer, and photograph anything not so I at least have a digital back up of sorts.

The overall theme – Whether it’s sheltering in place during earthquakes, or running from wild fires, our plans have us co-locating the kids so one parent can keep them from panicking while the other assess the situation.

May we never have to test our plans.

May 4, 2017


The congestion in my nose lessened, the fatigue slowly went away. All symptoms from my cold were dissipating, except for one: a dry, persistent cough. I had my voice back, but continued to have uncontrollable coughing fits. In fact, the cough seemed to be getting worse. I was now occasionally wake in the middle of the night coughing. Then not so occasionally. Then multiple times a night. It was feeling all too familiar.

The pollens. They be back for another year. This time, I’m prepared(ish). Once I realized the likely culprit behind my coughing fits I started taking the allergy medication again.

I’m pretty sure the particular type of plant that’s triggering my allergies is the tale grass beyond our property. It’s about three feet now, and sporting seed pods. Although I admit that could be coincidental timing and confirmation bias or I may be misremembering, I remember the same coughing fits going away last year after the grass was cut back by the city. (It’s a fire hazard in the summer.) Truth be told, I’m pretty sure my allergies were actually worse the week the grass was cut, when all the pollens were kicked up into the air.

The good news: regardless of what is triggering my allergies, if it’s the same culprit as that behind last year’s allergies, it shouldn’t last all summer. If I recall correctly I only needed the daily allergy pill for a few weeks. I may have even taken it slightly longer than I needed to. It’s not always easy to tell whether the coughing stopped because the irritant has gone away, or the medication is doing it’s job. The over the counter allergy medicine worked wonders for me.

Bad news: after a particularly wet winter, they’re forecasting a terrible allergy season.

A few more weeks. Then I can enjoy the outdoors again.

April 22, 2016

The Great Plant Uprising

I never had any kind of allergies…
… until I moved to California. The first summer I moved out here if I laughed too deeply, or caught a glimpse of the sun at the wrong angle, my eyes would water and burn. There were many crying Sarah jokes that year.

I never had allergy rashes…
… until I became pregnant for the first time. My calves, knees and arms used to explored in large raised red blotches that itched like crazy. I’m allergic to pregnancy, I’d jest. My eyes still burned on occasion.

I never had bad allergies…
… until I moved back to the suburbs. This time my allergies manifested them self as congestion in my chest. I thought I had the onset of a mild cold, until it lasted for weeks, and I’d awaken from sleep daily with coughing fits.

I’m the kind of person who typically avoids medication. I credit my reluctance to take medication as part of the reason why I can often control my migraines with just Advil. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps it’s observational bias. I don’t think of myself as a person with allergies because for most of my life I’ve never had them. It took a persistent cough and a call to the doctor before I decided to give over the counter allergy medication a try. Sure enough, about a week later my lingering cough had subsided enough that it would no longer wake me in the middle of the night, just as the doctor predicted.

Plants be evil.

So now in the long list of reasons why this move has been good for us (less commute time, less crowded, better schools, more places to take the kids) is one negative (more pollen). That’s a worth while trade off to me. I’ll just have to resign myself to the fact that I’ll need daily allergy medicine in the summer.

August 17, 2015

Earthquake Preparedness

It was a rough night last night, probably the worst once since Domingo and I first became parents three years ago. We were still awake, lying in bed at 6:49 am, having not had the chance to fall asleep yet. There was a familiar crack, and the rolling wave of energy that raced from the left side of the room to the right.

“Was that a …?” I asked
“Earthquake” Domingo answered.

There have been a number of earthquakes I’ve felt since I moved out to California a decade ago. Most have been in the last couple of years. They’ve been minor, light rumblings with no damage. I’ve never seen any indication that the girls have noticed them. During the 2007 Alum Rock earthquake Lily (our kitty) did look in the direction of the street when the shaking started. I think she was expecting a big truck. Funny aside: while there was no damage from the earthquake, I did break my toe a few hours latter by running into a dresser while chasing the cat.

I may not have been prepared for the black widow spiders, but earthquakes I’m ready for. For every major life change, every new family member gained, and old one lost, we’ve revised our game plan. We have a plan for The Big One, whenever it may hit and where ever we may be. We’ve planned out who it is that will pick the girls up from daycare (me) and whose primary job is to secure the house (him). We know to text first, email second and call last since that’s the order a signal is likely to get through. We know in the middle of the night, when awoken from a deep sleep, which one of us is responsible for securing which child. Over prepared, we are.

I’m beginning to wonder if I should involve Nicole in our earthquake “what to do if”s talks. She didn’t seem to know what an earthquake is when I talked to her, but I know her preschool does fire alarm drills. I had just finished dropping off Alexis once when the alarm went off. Presumably prior exposure to the fire alarm helped keep Nicole calm when the alarm in our apartment went off last September, less than two months before my due date. It was just the two of us, alone in the apartment. She waited patiently for me to put shoes on, then let me carry her down two flights of stairs on my seven month baby bump.

On the other hand fires (and false fire alarms as in our apartment’s case) are far more likely, statistically speaking, than earthquakes. Practicing fire drills makes sense. The big one is “imminent”, but imminent in geological terms seems to be the next thirty years or so. I don’t want to worry her unnecessarily.

For now I think I’ll wait until there’s an earthquake she feels before broaching the topic.

Not long after we moved into our new home there was a ring at our doorbell. A local exterminator was handling a spider problem at a house down the block. Since he was already in the area he was offering to spray our house as well, even offering a discount. We declined. One thing you get when you move to a house in the suburban hills is bugs. We knew this when we bought the house. We’ll deal. Besides, the problem didn’t seem that bad.

The spiders we have were mostly harmless. Daddy long legs rule the roost in the garage. In the house the quick moving little black house spiders are the most common we see. I’ve been proud of how well I’ve handled them. I’ve even squished a few myself, though I tend to rely on Domingo to do the deed. Full disclosure, there was the one the size of my palm that I didn’t see in the doorway when I entered the bathroom. Domingo had to rescue me from that one. There was also a daddy long legs that dropped down from the sun visor in the car when I was driving. It was probably the closest a daddy long legs has ever come to being deadly.

Then came a relatively cool weekend Summer day. Yesterday morning we decided to take the girls to the Zoo. We figured we’d take our jogging stroller so Alexis could nap while Nicole ran around looking at the animals.

When I packed up the stroller into the trunk of the car I noticed a rather thick spider web near the foot rest. The feather duster I keep in the car made quick work of it. Once we arrived at the zoo and I unpacked the stroller and I noticed another spider web near the basket. The feather duster made quick work of that one as well. Domingo unbuckled Nicole while I took Alexis out of her car seat. As I extended my arms to place Alexis in the stroller I noticed one more spider web, this time with spider, in the head rest. I recoiled my arms keeping Alexis close and asked Domingo to squish it. Domingo leaned close to get a better look, than informed me it wasn’t just any spider. It was a Black Widow!

As a none native to any where black widows typically live, I know only know the venomous spider by reputation. Domingo assures me that the black widow in the stroller was too small to likely have enough venom to kill a seven month old baby. Still the symptoms of a black widow bite are non to pleasant and can last for a week, even in an adult. It felt like we only just survived the stomach flu.

The black widow had to come from somewhere. Its siblings may be still out there. I’m about to be on a first name basis with our local exterminator.

August 24, 2011

Shaky Ground

When I considered moving to California from the east coast, I was deciding between two jobs: California and Florida. As my dad, so eloquently put it, I was deciding between hurricanes and earthquakes. Well I choose earthquakes. Turns out, the east coast just experienced an earthquake bigger than any I’ve felt in California!

We just had two 3.6s. Twin earthquakes on same fault. The local newspapers are now all abuzz about the big one we’re overdue for. It’s not bad enough that the Hayward fault has already generated a possibly 7.0 in 1858, some geologists think we might be underestimating the potential of the Hayward fault. Some believe that the Hayward and Calaveras faults may be connected, and could generate a 7.2 or 7.4 if they slip together (2 to 4 times greater than a 7.0!). And let us not forget the San Andreas fault which is just a little further West.

We were in Hawaii for the Tsuanmi after Japan’s 9.0 (and by the way, holy aftershock batman!) I was in California for the 5.6 Alam Rock, which originated from the Calaveras fault.

My fear of earthquakes is part of the reason we didn’t register for nice china when we got married. (Okay, only a small part. Buying a complete set is so much cheaper than purchasing individual settings separately, we figured we would just purchase our “pattern” when started entertaining.) It’s also making me re-think the HDTV. The nice thing about the rear projection TV is it’s heavy. Like 100lbs heavy. Any earthquake big enough to take that sucker down is going to leave a smoking crater where our house is. Of course that might be overkill, given the prediction for The Big One is a 64% probability of a 6.7 or greater in the next 25 years. Still, it’s always good to be prepared.

We keep flashlights on both floors, so in the event of a power outage we wouldn’t have to wonder far. That is, assuming the flashlights haven’t done any of the wondering. We also have bottle of drinking water hidden in the back of the pantry. It’s pretty unfathomable to me that we couldn’t just get in a car and go someplace to get food. I didn’t live though the last one which destroyed highways. With my campus 90 miles from home, we’ve also discussed what we would do if separated – including staying on campus overnight if it’s not clear that the roads are safe. Internet and land lines might go down, and cell circuits tend to get jammed in natural disasters, so it’s good to have a plan in place.

Here’s hoping we never have to test our earthquake disaster preparedness.