Me and my fabulous son, Max

Me and my  fabulous son, Max
Powerscourt, Ireland

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


So much has been happening at our new house that I've been remiss about blogging.  Back in June we came closer than I'd like to losing everything to the Powerhouse Fire.  Living in Southern California, you hear about brush fires from Summer through Fall.  Smoke in the air is not uncommon.  Living in California for over 30 years, this is the first time I've been personally affected by a fire.

Fire from Kitchen early Sat., June 1, 2013
The fire began the end of May in the remote area of the Angeles National Forrest, South of us.  We were not overly concerned because there are several lakes, a large reservoir and the California Aqueduct between us and where the fire originated.  We began to see the fire on Saturday.

We soon discovered that the Los Angeles media sources were about 8-12 hours behind on news and not a reliable source of what was happening real time.  Through our friend Kimberly Thorpe, we discovered the facebook page of AV Fire News, which was invaluable in tracking the fire and giving us up to the minute information. Below are updates over several hours and illustrate how fast and accurate the info was. 

Update: ‪#‎PowerhouseFire‬: New Road Closure - Ave D (Hwy 138) closed in both directions between 110th St W. & 190th St. W due to smoke making driving conditions unsafe.

Update: ‪#‎PowerhouseFire‬: 2 fires burning on the north side of the aqueduct. One is 3 acres and holding. The second is an unknown size and moving north. LASD evacuated an approx. 5 mile radius northwest and south of 160th St west and Ave H to Hwy 138.

Update: ‪#‎PowerhouseFire‬: Lancaster Road is closed between Munz Ranch Road and 170th St West.

Update: ‪#‎PowerhouseFire‬: The fire has crossed Lancaster Road and is well established in the Poppy Reserves.

Update: ‪#‎PowerhouseFire‬: Fire is now 25,000+ acres.  New Evacuations: LASD evacuated everything from 170th St West to 185th St West, from Lancaster Road to Ave D (Hwy 138).

Evacuations expanded: LASD evacuating everything from 170th St West to 190th St West, from Lancaster Road to Ave D (Hwy 138). Fire is just east of 190th St West at this time.  This is exactly where we live!!

Traffic Control requested for Ave D. Avoid Ave D (Hwy 138)

Saturday, June 1

This picture was taken from our back porch looking South on Saturday night.  We watched for hours as the fire planes and helicopters knocked the approaching fire back to the other side of the ridge, about 5 miles from our house.  The firefighters are truly amazing!

Sunday, June 2

This picture was taken looking South from our back porch on Sunday morning.  The fire did not appear to be a threat at this point as the winds were blowing from the West.

Sunday, June 2

We began to worry when we started to see flames again mid-day on Sunday.  We were reassured because the fire was on the other side of Lakes Hughes & Elizabeth, the Fairmont Reservoir and the California Aquaduct.

Sunday, June 2
 On Sunday afternoon, the wind shifted and began to come from the South, where the fire was burning.  Although we hadn't heard anything about evacuating, there was an eerie quality that could not be ignored.  When the power went out, we decided to get ready to evacuate.

Sunday Afternoon, June 2
Smoke blowing towards our house on Sunday afternoon shortly before we evacuated.

Under the green lid in box

Kittens, fish & Max ready to roll...along with Super Grover.

Evacuation is a strange thing.  Your mind is super clear and frazzled that the same time.  I brought our passports & other important documents.  Larry packed up the computers and some work documents.  I then packed a bag with some flashlights, binoculars and a change of clothes for Max.  After we left, I asked myself, why not take more stuff with us?  There are plenty of things we could have used.  Snacks?  Drinks?  Clothing and such?

The answer is clear.  We look what was most important...Max (our kid), Bubba-Wubba, Dixie & Trixie (the kittens), Dottie (the fish), Larry (husband) and me.  Everything else seemed inconsequential.

Driving away from the house felt wrong but we knew it was the right thing to do.  On the way out, we saw our neighbors, who are still building and have not moved in yet.  Since we are all on well systems, they were pumping their two 5000 gallon water tanks to make sure the firefighters had access to the water if needed.  They had seen the Sheriffs on their way in and let us know that it was only a matter of time before we would be asked to evacuate. 

I had heard somewhere to leave your house unlocked, so we did.

So the weird thing is...what now?  You've left your house, so now where do you go?  We were thinking positively.  We were hoping the wind would shift back to it's usual direction (from the West) and that the fire would be diverted and we could return home.  So with a kid, 3 kittens, and a fish, we headed to the closest McDonalds, about 25 miles West, in Gorman.

Hwy 138 at 210th Street, Sunday, June 2
So we went to McDonalds in Gorman and decided to head back towards our house to see what was going on.  We got a bad feeling when we saw the smoke blowing towards us as we drove down Hwy 138.  Our house is well beyond where the smoke was.

Our house is still standing, center of picture
We stopped at the Wee Vill Market on Hwy 138, about a mile North of our house.  What a relief to actually see that our house was still there!  We went inside and found a gathering of several neighbors.  We introduced ourselves, figured out where everyone lived and compared notes about the fire and evacuation.  We should have come here right away!

Max's first day of riding--Mr. Dave, white shirt in background

In a "what a small world" moment, we met Dave, Max's soon to be Horseback Riding Instructor.  Max went in and sat down at our usual spot.  However, there was already a guy sitting there eating.  I asked Max to move and the gentleman said Max was fine.  We introduced ourselves and began chatting.  Dave then asked if Max likes horses.  I told him yes, actually we were starting lessons on Tuesday.  It turns out that Dave was going to be leading Max's group at Saddle Up, a theraputic riding school for kids with special needs.

So after speaking to one of the Sheriffs at the Wee Vill, we decided that we needed a more long term plan.  My brother and his amazing wife, Kim offered us a place to stay, so it was off to Hermosa Beach with our fish & three kittens in tow!  I have to say that once we got there and had some pizza, I slept like a rock.  

On Monday, we watched the TV news and got no information whatsoever!  We monitored the AV Fire news site.  At around noon, I decided to give the Wee Vill market a call.  I'm so glad I did.  They let me know that the area was reopened to residents with ID.  So we packed up our pets and headed back home!

So for about 4-5 days after we returned, we had to show ID to get in and out of the area.  Ironically, when we returned from being evacuated on Monday, there was a UPS package waiting for us on the steps!

South at Top-North at Bottom of Map, our house located bottom center

Picture taken from AV Fire Site--Carmine's Horses
These two pictures were borrowed form our favorite AV Fire News site.  The top is a map showing the progress of the fire.  Our house is located between the fingers of the fire on the bottom center of the photo.

The second picture is of our neighbor, Carmine's horses around Lancaster Rd. & 190th Street.  I spoke with Carmine after the fire and he said that he had come to get the horses, but the firefighters had already cut the fences.  He wasn't mad.  He knew they were trying to do the right thing.  His entire horse facility was burned to the ground.  He put things into perspective when he told me that he was grateful that the firefighters had saved his trees.  He has a 10 acre peach orchard on the other side of Lancaster Road, directly across the street from his horse facility that was lost.

Here are some images I took of the Powerhouse fire the day after we returned:

Looking South down 180th Street at Avenue E (our Street)  Notice the burned hills.

Same view but closer, 180th street at Lancaster Road.  Notice the burned areas.
Looking from Lancaster Road at 180th North towards our house.
Fire burned right up to our mailbox farm on Lancaster Road and 190th Street

Phone lines still down on Lancaster Road near our mailbox

Here is a facebook post after we returned to our home.  I think it sums things up well!
Feeling so grateful! Thanks to the firefighters who stopped the fire less than a mile from our house. Thanks to the site AV Fire News for the invaluable information. Thanks to the random strangers rescuing pets and horses. Thanks to SCE for getting our power back on in the middle of an active fire. Thanks to the sheriffs for making sure we're safe and no unsavory characters enter our the area. Thanks to our local gathering place, the Weeville Market for providing the best info and a spot for neighbors to come together. Thanks to my family for putting up with us (kid, fish, 3 new kittens) while evacuated. This has really made me realize how fortunate I am!

Thanks for reading.  I hope none of you ever have to go through this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Construction Zone

Well, we've been here for a few weeks and are sort of settled in.  Because we are making some improvements, our house is basically a construction zone.  We are living in our master bedroom like a hotel!  Luckily our master is a good size, 16 x 20, so there's plenty of room to live, even though there are still boxes everywhere.  Because of all the construction dust, we're even eating our meals on the card table in our room.

Master from East to West
Master from West to East (we moved the TV)

We had such a solid plan for renovations and moving into the house, but plans do not always work the way you plan them.  We closed on the house the end of January and planned to have renovations completed BEFORE we moved in March 1st.

This has been in our living room since we moved in

Tile removed from Kitchen and
 Kitchen Dining area
Laminate removed from Dining room

Bare subfloor

We removed and sold the carpet in most of the house, but we still had to deal with the tile in the kitchen and kitchen dining area, shown in picture titled underlayment and the laminate in the dining room.  We salvaged as much of the material as we could and sold it on craigslist.  Yes, as unbelieveable as it may seem craigslist even works out here in the middle of nowhere!

Larry chatting with the Bagster guy from WM
Since there is so much construction debris, we thought we needed a dumpster.  If you've ever priced dumpster rental, you know that it is super expensive. In our area, it costs about $800!!  Luckily, we found out about a service offered by Waste Management called BAGSTER that offered quite a savings.  You only pay for the debris you remove.  Basically, you buy the large bags at Home Depot or Lowes for about $30 each.  We needed two of them. Once they're full, you call Waste Management and they come pick up the bags.  It was $129 for the first bag and $109 for each additional bag.  With the $5 off coupon we found, it was $233...much better than $800!!

WM picks up the giant bag with their crane
Then the bag is placed  into the truck
Lid is opened and closed over the truck
to avoid flying debris

 We were quite amazed at how quick and easy the Bagster service was. I highly recommend it to anyone that has a landscaping or home improvement project.  If you under estimate the amount of debris you have (which is quite easy!) you can always go pick up an extra bag.

Max enjoying the glorious weather
Meanwhile, Max is settling in quite nicely.  He really likes his new school, and after 7 days, is on a well deserved 2 week spring vacation!

Stay tuned for further updates.  Once the kitchen and floors are complete, I'll do a comprehensive before and after post on the transformation.  So far, I must say, we are thrilled with the progress.

Cheers for now~

Monday, March 11, 2013

Boy, Do We Have A Lot of Stuff

So, if you've just joined us from my San Diego blog, you saw this photo of our little trailer driving off into the sunset!  When you've lived someplace for over 8 years, you accumulate a lot of stuff!  No matter how much planning and pre-packing you do, you cannot truely be preparred for the horror that is moving all of your stuff!

Headed out of San Diego with Max's Playstructure in Tow

We moved last week and it took a crew of 4 men with 2 trucks from 7:30am to 3:30am to move our belongings from San Diego to our new place in the West Antelope Valley.  That's not 8 hours...that's 20 hours!  If you ever need a mover in the San Diego or Orange County area, I highly recommend All Star Move!  The owner, Daniel is knowledgable, professional and most importantly available to speak to you.  His movers were careful, courtesouy and respectful of our belongings. 

Laundry-Utility Room

Since we clearly under estimated the amount of time renovations take, we still are living in a state of chaos.  We have floors in the bedrooms, but our flooring is still being installed ijn the main living areas of the house.  Our kitchen is also under construction.  Therefore, we have boxes stacked in several areas...and a complete disaster in the garage.

On the positive side...we LOVE our house.  It has such a zen feeling.  It's a happy place to be. The views are amazing and the spaces are wide open.  Stay tuned for more detailed info on our renovations.

For now....Cheers!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We Bought a House...Now What?

Max does the honors...we got the keys!

Well, now that the house is actually ours, the real work begins!  Although we absolutely LOVE~LOVE~LOVE this house, there are dozens of cosmetic changes we need to make!

Miles of Carpet...
The first order of business is the flooring.  Although the bank had installed all new carpeting and pads, it just wasn't for us.  Through the miracle of social networking, we found someone who was thrilled to take it off our hands and pay us a little money to boot!  I love the win-win of getting rid of something and transferring it to someone that is generally thrilled to have it!  Next step is getting hardwood floors and finding someone to install them!

Max exploring the kitchen cabinets
The kitchen has a great layout, but is in need of some updating.  Not loving the black grout and tiles accented with a duck hunting motif.  The cabinets will get a nice coat of paint/stain and we'll search for a contractor to install new counters and backsplash.

Dining Room
The light fixtures in the dining room as well as the eat in kitchen area are in need of some love.  I think I'll take on the project of taking them from outdated to fabulous...or at least outdated to unobtrusive...ha ha!  The dining room is unusual, so not exactly sure what we're going to do to make it our own, but we'll start with the brass lighting.

Master Bedroom..more miles of carpet here
Another area that needs attention is the master bedroom.  Buying a bank owned property is an unusual experience.  The previous owners took a lot of the finishings and fixtures with them.  There was some sort of mantle or surround around the fireplace, that was removed.  Although the bank added a fresh coat of paint to the entire house, you can tell there's just something missing here.  We've removed the brick hearth as the bricks were all loose anyway.  We'll be adding a new hearth with some sort of tile surround and mantle.  I think I'll also paint the ceiling fan white so it doesn't stand out so much.

These are the initial changes we're planning to tackle.  Stay tuned for further adventures!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

We Just Bought a House!

Homeowners Again!

Today was the day....January 26, 2013.  We signed the final mounds of paperwork and are once again Homeowners in every sense of the word.  We now have a house, and payments and responsibilities that go with it.

Fernando, Max & Larry signing the docs!
Fernando from our Harmony Escrow came over to our house in San Diego this morning.  He brought with him a few hundred papers to review and sign.  Although it took about an hour, it was a painless, straightforward and very easy experience!  

A pleasant Surprise!

When we finished signing, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our lender, Navy Federal, had enclosed a certificate congratulating us on our new home purchase and to let us know we had a $200 Gift Card on the Way!

Now we wait for the loan to fund and the title to record.  We should be getting keys to our new house next week!!!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Details, Details, Details

Larry & Marti~Long Beach~1998  in our 100 year old bungalow

It's been over 10 years since we bought a house and although the process seems easier than last time, I had forgotten what a pain in the a$$ it is to buy a house!

Since we have a great relationship with our bank, Navy Federal, we went to them for our loan.  First slight glitch, the loan application referred to me as "Marth" Lindsey.  Geesh...I've done business with them for over 30 years, paid off 2 mortgages and they can't even get my name right?

Financing locked in, we put an offer on a new place in the West Antelope Valley.  Our offer was accepted and this is where the reams and reams of paperwork really began.  We had a packet of papers titled "Escrow Instructions" that was 20 pages of tiny point font...each needed to be reviewed and signed and/or initialed.

Larry signing the first of many batches of paperwork!
Yippee, now we can open escrow!  We received the escrow paperwork and the next little glitch was that my last name was misspelled on this set of documents.  I guess they just wanted to make sure we were paying attention!  Now with names correctly spelled, we needed to read and sign and/or initial the 64 page Escrow Package!

Meanwhile, our bank is asking for A LOT of stuff:  Please close your credit cards and get us zero balance letters.  How about statements from your investment accounts?  Wait, that's a screen print, how about an actual paper copy?  You're self employed, great...just need several years of tax returns and P&L statements from the business.  Wait...we don't like the information the way you presented it...can you give us the exact same info presented in this manner?  This is a drawn out process because the request is presented to us by the loan officer and papers go to the loan processor.  The credit committee or tax department or someone else needs to review the info and then the questions/answers are relayed back through the loan officer.  I feel like we have an entire brigade of people working behind the scenes for us! for the silver lining!  We are buying a house that was foreclosed on.  This is not a short sale nor a foreclosure.  The term is a "REO" or Real Estate Owned Property for the bank.  All of the paperwork (hundreds of pages at this point) states that the property is "as-is".  When purchasing from an individual, this is just what it sounds like.  When you're buying from a bank, not really.

"As-is" Property in the West Antelope Valley
So far the bank has made the following improvements to the "as-is" property:
  • Put on a new roof
  • Installed a new Heating & Air Conditioning system
  • Installed a new stainless steel dishwasher
  • Installed a new stainless steel cook top
  • Installed a new stainless steel trash compactor
  • Installed a new stainless steel microwave
  • Painted the interior and exterior of the house
  • Installed new carpet throughout the 2700+ square foot house
  • Inspected & Pumped the Septic System
  • Inspected and mitigated (repaired) Termite Damage
The house has been inspected by numerous people and we have reports from all of them:  Real Estate Agent, Termite Guy, Well Company, Septic Guy, Home Appraiser, Certified Home Inspector.

Based on these reports, the bank has agreed to fix these additional items on the "as-is" house:
  • Remove damaged cabinets from the garage
  • Add stairs in the rear of house and repair stucco
  • Replace electrical outlet and add cover
  • Deliver a new load of Propane so the tank is full
Based on our experience so far, I would have to say that if you have to make a decision to buy a house from a person or a a house from the bank!  They have no emotional attachments and realize that the property needs to meet certain criteria for the loan to fund.  There is no messing around...they just fix it.

I fully expect there to be more things to pop up before we close.  Although there are a lot of details and sooooo many papers to read, review and sign, the end result is a new home.  I have to admit that the thought of sorting through and packing up all of our belongings is a nightmare.  More on this later!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

We're Taking the Plunge!

Our future house in the West Antelope Valley, CA

We're in escrow on this fabulous white house pictured above.....and everyone we know thinks we're nuts! 

View from our window in San Diego, CA
I need to take a few steps back for this all to make sense.  Currently we live in a fabulous house, on a quarter acre lot, with an amazing view, 5 minutes from downtown San Diego.  We have a giant picture window that looks over San Diego Bay to Coronado Island and to Mexico beyond.  We have a great yard with room for our trampoline & play structure with plenty of room for a large garden.  A small bay beach is right down the street.  Life is pretty good.

Max watering our yard, downtown San Diego in the back.

The main problem with our situation is that Larry, my husband, has been commuting to Kern County for the past few years.  Larry is a contractor whose role has morphed from mainly working from home to having to be on site with his customer....who happens to be 3-4 hours away.  In the past few years, he's gone from mostly being here with Max and me to traveling to a hotel in Bakersfield on Sunday...then driving to the oil fields an hour each way to work....returning exhausted on Thursday nights.  The separation simply isn't working for our family.

Max with his aide since KG, Alma, and pals Carlos & Caden.
The decision to move closer to Kern County wasn't an easy one.  We've been renting this amazing place for 8 years.  Our son, Max, has Down syndrome.  The services he receives at our neighborhood school are extraordinary.  Cabrillo is a small K-4 school with a few hundred kids...Max knows everyone and everyone knows Max.  He's in a regular class with the same kids he's been with since Kindergarten.  He has friends from school and connections made through the special needs community here in San Diego.  Like I said, life is good.

Max plays Miracle League baseball.
When you have a child with special needs, you're always looking towards the future.  Although life in San Diego is great, is it what's best for Max long term?  Although his school placement is ideal now, when he enters 5th grade, the situation will not be optimum.  What will Max do in High School and beyond?  When you start asking the BIG questions, your path leads in a different direction.

We need to set Max up for success long term.  We also need a better (hard to quantify better when you live in San Diego where we live) quality of life as a family.  The solution seemed to be moving towards Bakersfield.  The main problem with that is the air quality.  You simply do not move a medically fragile child to a place where he can't breathe the air.

So we spent a few months looking for someplace close enough for Larry to commute to work, but that had air you can breathe.  We looked in the Cuyama Valley, Lebec, Lockwood Valley,  Frazier Park and the West Antelope Valley.  Although they all had great attributes, the West Antelope Valley ended up being the best fit.

In the 'yard' with the Tehachapi Mountains in the background. 

We've looked at a lot of houses...some fabulous and some lacking.  We lost out on the house we thought was THE house, only to have the white house pictured at the top fall right into our plans.  Our plans to set Max up for the have a nice place to live with enough acreage to grow some sort of 'low maintenance'  crop on the land. 

It looks like we found our solution.  Join us for future updates to our home, land, Max's life and our further adventures n the Antelope Valley!