Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More on School

The issues that led me to look into public schools were behavioral on the part of two of the girls and what I thought was a lack of progress academically. However, since beginning our homeschooling year in earnest, the girls have started progressing again and I can see that the stall had more to do with our move than anything else. Same with the behavior.

Our home is in a great neighborhood, but our school boundary crosses into a very rough part of town. I do fear public schools here because they are filled with children from very low income families, which means uneducated parents. The schools are overwhelmed trying to teach the children to behave, speak English, and develop a desire to learn. The parents don't participate because they often don't speak English or don't have the education themselves. Gangs are a HUGE problem here, too. The high school has a city police department in it and the middle school has a full-time security staff with huge beefy, thick-necked guards who look like bad guys out of a James Bond movie.

The private school the girls attended part time last year is excellent, but private school is very expensive! I'm hoping it's an option next fall for us.

I have made the decision to continue to homeschool for this year. At the same time, I need to find ways to meet the social needs of my children. We attend church and church-related activities each week, we go to community events, we take every opportunity we can to go out to dinner with other families or meet for play-dates, but it's pretty rare since people have busy lives. It will become less rare the more people we get to know.

I am curious to know what level of socialization homeschooling families find appropriate for your kids, especially your kids from China who were adopted at an older age. As I told My Firefighter this morning, I am very intelligent, always an honor student, but if you put me into an MIT advanced math class, I'd be completely lost and overwhelmed. Putting Jie Jie into a 5th grade class, especially with her processing disorder, which is clearly visible to anyone talking to her, where she will receive no help other than orthopedic in the form of a padded chair and footstool and 30 minutes of math support (at first) per day, while she is working at 1st grade level in math, early 2nd in grammar, and reading somewhere between 1st and possible 4th grade, is ridiculous! It's setting her up for failure and I will not do that to her.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Survived Another IEP

Imagine sitting at a huge conference table, by yourself, facing a school principal, vice principal, two special ed teachers, a mainstream class teacher, a psychologist, speech therapist, nurse and orthopedic impairment special teacher. Each one takes a turn explaining the results of the evaluation they did on your child. The results, the child is average or just below average in a couple categories so she's doesn't qualify for special education, but so low in all the other categories that there isn't enough of a point spread between her low cognitive score and the low speech score so she doesn't qualify for speech either, even though she's got a measurable and profound receptive and expressive speech disorder. The verdict: placement in a mainstream 5th grade classroom 90% of the time and 10% per day pull-out help in math. No extra time for tests even though she timed out on every test requiring reading aloud and her verbal ability is far below her age, due to being an English language learner as well as her processing disorder.

She will be expected to do long division and multiplication even though she's only been in the US for 3.5 years and had never been to school or even held a crayon until then. But they'll pull her out of class 30 minutes a day to help with math. I the past 3.5 years, she's learned to speak English, read, write and do simple math, yet, because of her age, they want to place her into 5th grade. Oh, she only wears size 7 clothes because she's so tiny even though she's 10.5 years old.

My tongue unleashed itself and I said to the school nurse, "This is a joke!" Only to be reprimanded by the female principal and lectured on how much time they all spent working on evaluating my child and writing the reports. Well, excuse me, but don't my tax dollars pay them to do that?

What I really was aiming my comment at anyway was the fact that the State of California has set a very narrow way of evaluating and classifying a child who qualifies for special education. It's really a joke!

At least the professionals as this school didn't try to put her in with the autistic and mentally retarded kids as did the middle school with my other child. And some very kind people at the high school took me aside and told me that they can't meet my eldest's needs and to keep homeschooling her and that they'd ever put a non-autistic or non-mentally retarded child in a class especially designed for those kids and their needs.

I would have been happy to put her into a third grade mainstream class, with pull-out help, and she would have thrived. But fifth grade? NO WAY! Why set her up for failure? Isn't her self-esteem fragile enough due to the differences she lives with because of her special need? What fifth graders are still playing with baby dolls and Barbies? There is only one Caucasian child in each class, if that, the rest are mostly Hispanic and low-income at that. What will she have in common to talk about and do? I'm sure she'd find something with the third graders, but with fifth graders?

Please weigh in! There are only two reasons I went through this: I didn't think I was doing a good enough job (now I realize I am, but that the past year working on the house and in our new town made me lose perspective), and, the pressure for the girls to have more socialization. Compared to our old neighborhood and being new in town, we don't get out much, but I see that changing. We attend church every Sunday and the girls have weekly church activities. Last year, they attended a private school several days a week for several hours for socialization and this summer did a week of sport camp. We take every opportunity we can to meet new people, but people have busy lives, so it's not as often as we'd like, especially when the family's are public schoolers. I have gotten in touch with our local homeschooling community, but I will soon be working and limits my daytime availability, which is why it's nice when my kids can sleep in and we can go out in the evenings or just have family time. Outdoor holiday ice skating is about to begin and, if Jie Jie starts public school, she'll need to be in bed every night by 7pm so she can get up at 5:45am. When is she supposed to have some family time? When is she supposed to have play time? A teacher and school nurse said she'll have plenty of recess, but what about time playing with her own toys and her sisters?

Homeschooling friends out there, please tell me your feelings about socialization. I can take my girls anywhere and they have a great time, answer anyone when spoken too, get silly like regular kids, and have fun with other kids and adults. Right now, though, none have a special friend because it's hard to break into a new area. I believe American kids are WAY OVER socialized and some great books are being written about it, such and Reclaiming Your Kids. My girls do have language and experience barriers as do all the kids who spent most of their childhoods in orphanages, but they are better behaved than the average American kid and much more polite, so people like them.

What sort of activities do your children participate in? Especially those who were adopted as much older kids and/or have special needs.

My girls had plenty of "socialization" in their orphanages. It's family time for now, but with adulthood looming for two of them in 2 and 4 years, there has to be some introduction into mainstream society too where they can learn the things of interest (to a reasonable extent) to people in their peer group and understand and follow current events. I know that most outsiders looking in think homeschoolers don't get enough socialization, but these days it's almost impossible for anyone not to be socialized enough.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Apple's First Sentence

Thank heavens, I now know that Apple WILL learn to talk! Yesterday she said her first spontaneous sentence, "I am duh n."

We've now had three speech therapy sessions and the first was way back in June before her last surgery, which was also the last until two weeks ago because we lost her spot during her recovery time and they didn't have any openings again until now. The therapist wanted her to play with barn animals and push a little car around making vroom vroom noises, but I put a stop to that. Apple is super smart. When the older girls sit with the books for a school lesson, Apple gets a book and her chair and wants to join us, too. When I asked the therapist what the point of the play was, she said to build a rapport. Well, we only have coverage for speech therapy until Nov. 30, so I finally laid it on the table.

I said, "I know this is going to sound strange, but you don't need to build a rapport with her. She spent her first 19 months in an orphanage, shows no stranger anxiety and is outgoing and friendly to all, while still being securely bonded to me. You are her teacher for one hour a week. Just sit her on the chair, tell her it's time to use her mouth and learn to talk, and she'll do it."

No surprise to me, it worked out VERY well. Apple is learning 1-3 new sounds per day and, after yesterday's first sentence, is finally grasping the concept of how to use speech and the necessity for it.

She is super smart and understands everything she hears and can follow complex, age appropriate, instructions. The issue of her speech seems to be completely motor. She struggles to find the right ways to move her mouth to make the sounds. The good news is that it's getting easier and easier for her the more she practices and gains new sounds. I'm sure she'll be a chatterbox soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

County Fair

Our fire department has a program to take families with children with special needs or extraordinary circumstances to the state fair and my family was one that got to go this year, thanks to My Firefighter. We were escorted by several firefighters in uniform, and some of their family members, so that each child and the parent(s) could do whatever they wanted/could. In my case, I had someone manning the stroller while I took the girls on rides and when Blossom was too scared to go on some of the rides, she could go play a game nearby with her escort. Apple rode a carousel for the first time and Jie Jie rode the big rides for the first time. We had a TON of fun!

Our entire group!

Apple rode a pony for the second time, but didn't cry like she did the first time. She must have remembered and figured she'd be fine.

Sissy loves riding!

Learn to milk a pretend cow.

This little piggy...

...was bristly!

Smiling with full mouths.

Definitely yummy!

At 10 yrs. 8 mon. old, Jie Jie is FINALLY
tall enough to ride some of the big rides!
She LOVED them!!!

Apple thought the carousel was great...

Then I got up on her horse with her and by the end of the ride she was doing better. Now that she's done it once, she'll love it the next time.

Let the games begin!

We have a winner!

Cute fluffy prizes, and some live goldfish I refused to take home seeing as how we have 8 cats who would definitely eat them.

One of our escorts who danced with Blossom. It was very cute.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dating & Relationships 2

The commenter has an excellent point here that My Firefighter has even brought up: "I worry that this life I've chosen will be too much for him and he will runaway and leave multiple broken hearts."

I'd love to hear from some men on this one. Women, will you please bring this before your husbands and see what they have to say? I'm personally most interested in the older dads - the over 50s, especially for those where the adopted children have come along after the older ones have left home, a "second family" situation, but any age dad or man is welcome to help out here. How about a dad who was planning a different sort of retirement when the plan changed to starting again with new children through adoption?

Parenting adopted children, especially those with special needs, is a different lifestyle. Bring in a man who thought retirement was going to be completely different, and then what? How does a man handle this? My Firefighter struggles with this, too. He's said that he looks at us and sees taking us on as the most rewarding thing he'll ever do. Other times, it's a scary prospect. He was on a course that included a retirement filled with hiking and travel and waiting for a grandchild or two, perhaps even moving out-of-state to be near these future grandchildren. Suddenly, our of nowhere, we pop up and into his heart.

Come on men, please give us single ladies some advice here. How did you do it with your wives? What advice would you give to a man contemplating taking on an instant family like this? What questions would you ask him or think a woman should ask him? What questions should a woman ask a man?

Please send this one out as far into blogger cyberspace as possible so we can get a good variety of commenters!

Entering the Public School Arena

One of my children, Jie Jie, will be attending public school in a couple weeks. She has always had a "Peter Pan" syndrome, seemingly unable to keep maturing unless I force her along. Well, she's got some serious learning issues. I've suspected for a long time, many said give her more time, but I finally had her tested and she definitely has an expressive and receptive language disorder. In her own words, "My ears hear the words, but my brain doesn't." She doesn't take ANY auditory cues from the environment. She functions completely visually and, therefore, misses a huge percent of life. It was astonishing to watch her in the library with the school class the other day. Her little head was bobbing all over the place like a dashboard doggie as she tried to figure out what was going on. The minute she lowered her eyes to the book she chose, she missed the bell, the teacher's announcement to line up, and the fact that all the kids left and she was still there reading.

She has had the idea that public school would be a lot like her experience last year in the private school she attended part time for music, but she got the shock of her life in the lunchroom. Suddenly, things felt overwhelming and a little hard and confusing. Then, she had forgotten to restock her medical supplies, her job, and the teacher told her exactly what I did and in the same voice, "You are a big girl now. That is your responsibility, not your mom's." She nearly cried and I was glad. I know that sounds cold-hearted, but it's been a constant issue and to have support and to see her realize I've been right all this time was priceless! Though by birthdate she'd be in 5th grade this year, she will be going into a third grade classroom and be pulled out for help in every subject since she's working way below 3rd grade level. Some is because she was 7 when I got her and she'd never so much as even held a crayon before, then there's the learning English, then there's getting her health stabilized, but she has not been progressing in her studies at home as I would have expected such a bright child to progress, so I'm turning her over to the professionals.

Fortunately, I really like the school and the teachers. Her teacher is even in a wheelchair, which is a great role model for her since she often feels like the only one with a special need. The student body lacks diversity, the population is probably 97% Hispanic, but the school has high standards and I was very impressed with the behavior of all the students, the kindness of all the staff and a particular little boy who helped Jie Jie, the cleanliness of the school and the bright colorful classrooms. The special ed services are extensive, too. She has no reason not to thrive in this school.

I wish I was having as much success placing Blossom. She, too, qualifies for special ed services, but she cannot be mainstreamed into a 7th or 8th grade classroom. The recommended class placement was a disaster, consisting of mostly kids with autism and ADHD, which Blossom doesn't have. They could not even take a folder out of their desk without the teacher having to countdown from 10 slowly, meanwhile, Blossom had accomplished two homeschool assignments and her PT, on her own that very morning. I showed the work to the teacher and she agreed with me that her class of kids wasn't a good match even if the academic level was. On top of this, the teacher emphasized that every child in her class had a terrible home environment. That was the definitive factor in nixing this school. Blossom should not be placed into any situation where kids are "a rough bunch" or all have terrible home environments. I've worked too hard with her to teach her what proper behavior and a loving family is all about to have it undone by spending 100 hours a month in a classroom with "a rough bunch of kids."

I don't know what options I have, but I'm enlisting the help of an advocate so that I can find out. Blossom does have a learning disability, but it's hard to know how mild or severe it is due to the damage done to her in her orphanage. I think she'd do best with experienced special ed teachers who can begin to pinpoint her specific learning strengths and weakness using all the tools they have to tailor teaching styles to the individual's learning style.

Sissy is continuing with homeschool. She is doing very well right now and is very self-motivated. Socially, she needs to do better, but it's so hard to be an English language learner in a highschool or 3200 students and be so new to the culture, too.

Getting Real

So many families adopted older girls like I did around the same time I did and I've noticed a trend as I follow their blogs. Now that a couple years or more have gone by, our children have reached a plateau and we can pretty much see how future progress is going to go, at least for the upcoming year. Some families have children with such extreme behaviors and needs that the child has had to live outside the home in treatment facilities of various kinds. Others who started out homeschooling are now public schooling and vice versa. For others, things have gone more smoothly. We have done quite well, but have not been without issues. One of the biggest issues that kids coming out of the orphanages have is in the area of self care. I'm noticing a lot more short haircuts lately and today one of my girls joined the ranks.

It's been a constant struggle for Blossom to learn to fix her hair in a neat and tidy manner. The picture below is actually showing her about 30 minutes after fixing herself up. Whatever she does, it never lasts, even if it starts out relatively okay. Lately, despite me telling her not to do it, her attempts at neatness means slicking her hair down with copious amounts of water until she looks like something out of a 50s pomade commercial. Another issue is about growing out the bangs. She kept putting the barrette near the top of her head. At nearly 14 years old, she just cannot go out in public looking this and not expect stares. One of the goals I have for my girls is to be able to fit into age appropriate society to a degree. This means presenting oneself age appropriately. Even My Firefighter asked me what was up with her weird hair lately and he's a guy!

Last night, I gave Blossom until Tuesday to go without three warnings by me to keep herself neat and tidy. When I got up this morning and saw that she'd slicked it down with a gallon of water AGAIN, she lost the privilege of trying until Tuesday and I cut her hair into a style that is cute and flattering and totally manageable for her. Yes, she cried at first and thought it was a punishment, but the result proved to her otherwise!

Her hair was long enough that we can donate it to Locks of Love. But the most important thing is this: Blossom has looked cute, neat and tidy ALL DAY LONG with this new hair cut! She looks more her age and we will now have less tension between us since I won't be sending her to the bathroom six times a day to tidy up. No braids, no ponytails, no barrettes, just comb out the tangles and be done. Can you hear my sigh of relief? We are streamlining! Eliminating stress where stress can be eliminated.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dating and Relationships

A commenter has asked: "If you feel comfortable, could you please share how you went about introducing your children to your firefighter. And the process of blending your relationship with him and your children.

It can be so difficult as a single adoptive mom to special needs children. Longing to have adult companionship and someone to share the ups and down of parenting with, but unsure how it will affect the children.

I have adoptive children ranging from preschool to teen all with different challenges and needs. I worry about them experiencing another parent loss if my relationship doesn't work out. I worry about adjustment issues and regression. I worry that this life I've chosen will be too much for him and he will runaway and leave multiple broken hearts.

I don't currently have a relationship because I'm clueless as how to make sure he'd fit with my family without my family getting close to him. He wouldn't know what its like unless he spent time with us but if he's with us some of the children will become attached to some degree, and then what if he runs."

Honestly, I've never been much of a dater. Ever. I always thought that dating is what two people did when they met, found each other interesting, and wanted to get to know each other better to see if the relationship could progress into a romantic one. For many years now, it appears that sex/romance come first and the getting to know each other happens or doesn't, depending on how the relationship turns out.

I recently browsed the Rumor Queen Forum and saw in the single parenthood area a post about dating. One person wrote: "...and have decided that if it's meant to be he will arrive on my doorstep wrapped in a bow."

That's pretty much how My Firefighter came into my life. He was assigned to the fire station across the street from my new house the same day I moved in. All the firefighters run or walk around the neighborhood close to the station every morning to stay fit. This means they pass by my house many times each morning. Being a captain and new to the neighborhood, he came over and introduced himself and, from July 2013 through Feb. 2014, we had a neighborly relationship. At first, we'd see each other in passing and just say hi. Then, we'd chat for a couple seconds. On Thanksgiving Day, he knocked on the door to see if we were okay and how the baby did with her surgeries. After the new year, he noticed that I still had my Christmas tree up and he asked about it and then helped me take it down when I told him my shoulder was injured and I couldn't get it outside by myself.

Things changed at the end of February 2014. We started exchanging dvds and I invited him in to sit down to talk instead of talking in the doorway. It was winter now, and cold, and I figured he was safe enough. Starting in March, he'd stop by each time he was on duty, brining the radio in case he got a call, and we talked - still just as friends.

Right at the end of June, things changed to a deeper friendship and feelings of love began. Then things got complicated. There have been several complications and the biggest is actually on his side, but on my side it is, of course, the kids. They already had seen him and spoken to him several times, so he was already a casual friend. We'd taken a tour of the fire station when we first moved in and I'd shared with him some of the necessary details of their special needs as our primary first responder, so he was quite aware of certain aspects of their special needs from the start. But, that didn't mean he understood about attachment and all the other issues our kids have.

On the kids side, we'd already been abandoned by someone we thought was a friend, a single dad with a daughter, who you've also seen on this blog as JJ, and they still feel that. However, it opens discussion about the reality of relationships. We've talked about the various kinds of relationships people have: being polite in line in public and making small talk with people we don't know, acquaintances, casual friends, close friends, dear friends. We talk about how getting to know someone is risky because we might end up not liking them as much as we'd hoped or they might not end up liking us as much as we'd hoped, but that if we don't take the risk, we'll never find out. It also opened up several discussions on how men and women get to know each other in that special way. We talked about how long it really takes to get to know someone, and their adoptions and attachment to me and feelings of love for me were great examples because they remember how long it took them to love me and get to know me so this part was very real to them.

We've also talked about the things that are important, like spiritual beliefs, moral beliefs and standards, similarities and differences, and it's been a very good lesson for my oldest daughter who is coming up on 16 in less than 2 months!

Now, the logistics are odd due to my unique situation with the kids. For example, we've been on exactly three dates and the first one was just a drive as friends in the middle of June, after my kids were in bed. My oldest can babysit her sisters, for short periods of time, but I'm most comfortable if they are already in bed. The second date was also at night and was supposed to be dinner and bowling or a movie, but ended right after dinner when My Firefighter had an allergic reaction. The third date, and most successful, was yesterday's hike. I hired a college girl to babysit, and honestly, compared to handing my baby over to the surgeon for major surgery, leaving them healthy and whole with this gal was a piece of cake! Yes, the girls did have some issues upon my return. Blossom cried easily yesterday, and Apple got up crying during the night last night, which is very rare for her, but today they seem just fine. Most of our time spent together has been at my place.

There have been other common issues, for example, boundary issues. The girls have all had issues learning the differences between what adults get to do and what kids get to do. One of my children really struggles with appropriateness. She needed to be taught that she cannot hug him and touch him the same way I do because she's a child. For example, I'll frequently touch his shoulders or the back of his head or his cheek and she cannot do this. Fortunately, My Firefighter is handling this in an exemplary way, having raised his own daughter on his own from when she was 10 yrs. old. He has established his own way of handling each of the girls and I've approved of everything so far. In fact, he's extremely respectful of me and what I've done by adopting the girls he's very careful not to rock our boat, but to see where he can fit into things in a positive and helpful way to enhance what we already have. He's even respectfully offered suggestions that have been very good. After all, no parent is perfect, so input can be a great thing.

It's hard to describe more than this, because I'm learning as I go along, too. It's definitely great having him, it's definitely scary to, wondering if he'll stick around through thick and thin, it definitely takes a lot of my energy, which is hard on me since I have the girls to take care of and the house and pets and I'm racing to get my daycare going, but he's also helping with all of these things. He's built shelves for me, come to my first IEP meeting, he's even come to Apple's physical therapy appointment, helped the girls with reading and memorization. It's been good for the girls to see a man being so helpful and caring and one who can cook, which they got a real kick out of.

I truly don't know where this relationship will go, but I have my hopes. Sometimes it seems so easy and obvious and other times so hard and complicated. I am acutely aware that the greater risks are on my side and are to my girls, so I am as careful as a mom can be, but life is life and we need to live it and teach our kids to live it, too!

Friday, October 3, 2014

I Climbed Half Dome!

I can barely walk today and I truly hobbled the last 4 miles of trail to the car last night, but I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park!

I didn't have time to train or get into condition and I've never walked more than 8 miles in a day, which was long ago. It was totally a cold turkey hike. But I made it to the top! And back again, which was harder. It was about 17 miles round trip, going up 4000 vertical feet, from start to finish took 15 hours, which is pretty long, but my friend was slow on the sub-dome and going up on the cables and I was slow coming down the cables and super slow the last 3 miles to the car as my left leg was so worn out it didn't work very well any more. Though I'm still hobbling a lot today, I'm sure tomorrow I'll have rigor mortis and be barely moving tomorrow.

These are the first pictures I've got. Others are in my friend's camera and I'll put them up later as they show me on the treacherous cables."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

King Fire Demobilization

These images are of the King Fire probably taken Sept. 17th or 18th.

My Firefighter returned home yesterday late afternoon. It was raining torrentially on his last day and accommodations were full in the camp. Flu had hit 1000 personnel, so they were more than happy to find alternate accommodations even though it turned out to be a warehouse room in a school, similar to a gymnasium, but not as nice. Apparently, 1,000 personnel came down with flu at the camp, but it sounds more like food poisoning to me since it only lasted 24 hours and was described as "coming out both ends" rather than chills, aches and fever.

Despite Apple's face, she adores My Firefighter, and has him wrapped around her little finger. She's just hates the flash on the camera so she wasn't thrilled taking pictures, especially with the camera on the timer to get us all.

I've been working on my house all this last week and got another room arranged so that was a nice surprise. Now, instead of sitting at the kitchen table, the far end of the dining room is now a family room with a sofa. It's close enough to kitchen that we can still talk, but one can now visit comfortably while I'm busy in the kitchen. My Firefighter sat and read to the girls and I pottered around getting dinner thinking how cute it all was.

The cuteness ended partway through dinner when My Firefighter fell ill. He left and got home just in time to vomit. It wasn't my food, but either exhaustion and the result of a week of terrible food, often cold meat sandwiches a day or two old, or a touch of the food poisoning "flu" going around. He's better today, thankfully, but we'd been looking forward to seeing each other and it was cut short. The worst part for him was worrying that he'd brought illness into the house and that the girls would get sick. I'd pretty much figured it was food poisoning so I wasn't worried about the girls, but about him.

From Air Attack 17: Looking east across the northern zone of the King Fire on Sept. 26 at 08:30am. Image courtesy Todd White

Thursday, September 25, 2014

King Fire Update

This fire has made history! At 8,002 personnel, it's the largest number of resources on a wildfire ever! It's now covering 95,347 acres and 43% contained. That's larger than the cities of Atlanta, Portland or Las Vegas. Today was the day of starting demobilization, the organized release of some resources (personnel and their equipment), however, some will be released to go to another fire that was started by human means yesterday afternoon by Lake Tahoe's south shore near Emerald Bay.

The good news is that there is a light rain currently falling over the King Fire area and, mostly likely, on the Cascade Fire, too. As long as the winds stay calm, firefighters can make very good progress in conditions like these. The King Fire did cross the lines where My Firefighter was last night, but they beat it back into submission.

Yesterday, the task force My Firefighter is on got showers for the first time in 4 days! They also got their first hot meal in 4 days. Up to now, they've relied on helicopter drops for "box" lunches that are frequently quite nasty. The fire is so large that it's divided into two command zones. The northern zone is run by the feds and the southern zone by the state. The state treats their firefighters much better than the feds. They get the camps and amenities set up sooner and have a better over all command. The feds finally started catching up yesterday, but today it's raining and My Firefighter and all the men who were on night duty last night and are serviced by the same spike camp, are out in the rain, trying to sleep. That's right - no tents, no sleeper trucks. He also lost cell phone reception but managed to get a message through to me on another cell phone with a different service provider, but that's now down, too. He did say they managed to get a roll of plastic from somewhere and were scrounging up some duct tape to rig something so they can set up their cots and sleeping bags and get some sleep without getting rained on.

This is a seriously rugged job! Imagine working all night on the fire line, which is seriously hard labor, then coming back to camp and having to sleep outside in the rain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kitten Caper

I think it's amazing how Apple managed to get a kitten since they are still a little skittish, but she is the one in there the most with them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Good Question

A commenter asked: "What happens if all these firefighters are in the woods, what happens if there is a fire in town? Do they have additional firefighters?

Yes, they have additional firefighters. Sometimes the station is left empty, though it's rare or for a short period of time, and another station covers the area, but usually, they call people up from off duty. In this case, my firefighter and all the men on his strike team were called in from off duty so the station staff didn't change. If the men on duty at the station are sent out, as happened on the last fire since the regular engine was needed, versus the brush rig that the men took to this fire, then the regular station staff go and more staff are called in to replace them, but for that time, the station area is covered by another station.

For example, I was out doing yard work when I saw the engine leave the station across the street. After awhile, I saw cars, each with one man, pulling into the station gate and realized it'd been a good hour and the engine hadn't returned. After the fourth car pulled in, I knew they'd restaffed the station. They will use a substitute engine or the OES rig that's based there. When I came inside after doing my yard work, I was able to see that my firefighter had been mobilized.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

King Fire

The girls and I are tracking another fire. My Firefighter was mobilized today to a huge fire burning between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, called the King Fire. It was started by an arsonist, who is now in jail. When we were at Shriner's Hospital Northern California last Wednesday, we saw the pyrocumulus cloud from the fire as it went insane and nearly tripled in 12 hours, to over 17,000 acres. These aren't called forest fires in fire terms, that's for us lay people. These are called wildland fires.

He's part of a 4 man crew on a brush rig, part of a strike team, meaning he's "playing chicken with the fire." Until I met him, I never realized what these firefighters go through on wilderness fires. First off, they are called for up to two weeks straight. They could be on 12 or 24 hour shifts. They often sleep under the stars in sleeping bags, sometimes on cots, in super smoky air with mosquitos biting them, and, in the mountains, even in summer, it can be quite cold at night - or too hot. If they are lucky, there are sleeper trucks; large semi trailers with 50 bunks stacked three high. They use their sleeping bag and their own pillow, if they remembered to bring one, on the beds.

However, one must be in from duty early to get one of these, or it's out under the stars. Last time, too many trailers left before hundreds of men were demobilized and the men had to camp out in a school yard.

Showers are few and far between. Again, a semi trailer full of shower stalls is brought in to base camp and the lines are long. At the front of the line, the men are handed a large towel, that's paper, to dry off with. Believe me, they are grateful to finally get that shower. Sometimes, they are put up in camping cabins or even hotels or motels, but usually the cheapest ones with pretty bad accommodations.

Food comes out of a truck, too. It's plentiful, but not the most healthy, mostly carbohydrates. It can be anything from "industrial" hotdogs, a soggy hotdog pre-wrapped and served by the hundreds, to steak and fried shrimp, to canned beans and rice. Lunch is a sack lunch, and believe it or not, often contains those disgusting Uncrustables. Hot breakfast, usually meat like bacon, and eggs. Men can gain weight on these jobs from all the carbs, but they don't go hungry.

Of course, there aren't bathrooms out in the forest, so it's a shovel and hole for the big stuff and behind a bush for the small stuff.

On the last fire, My Firefighter took up a water tender, a relatively safe job because they are situated at the fringes of the fire where engines come to refill their tanks. The tender could be parked near a water source, like a creek or stream, even a tiny one, where they temporarily dam up the water to make a pool deep enough to get their pump in, or they empty into the engine tanks, then leave and drive to their water source, refill, then come back to their designated station. Below, the water tender is dumping into their portable tank and a rig is drafting into their own tank. It was the night shift and quite busy since, with the drop in temperature and increased humidity of night, a fire may "lay down" and a lot of fire suppression progress can be made.

It's amazing what these people do and we don't even know it. For example, a tree trunk may burn through at the bottom of the trunk, and tree will fall down. It's called a snag. If the fallen part burns, there might not be a trace left. If the stump burns, it can burn down into the ground all the way to the roots, but the ground won't show this, and still be burning, so the firefighters walk with stick like a blind person's cane, testing the ground before each step, because someone can fall right into one of these holes, it's like falling into a super heated oven and no one will survive. There was one at a recent fire that was 15 feet deep!