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California Wildfire Survivors One Year Later

15 Nov

News of the Camp Fire that spread in one hour from 1,000 to 5,000 acres and by the end of the day had wiped out an entire town became too much for me.  I noticed I felt compelled to avoid images, and especially video, of flames and people fleeing in terror.  The mere mention brings me to tears and makes me feel unsafe and depressed.  I want to run and hide.  I want to live somewhere wet.  I feel trapped by circumstances outside my control.  And pouring salt on these wounds is an American President incapable of empathy.

 

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The day after the Camp Fire raged, I received an email from the Northern California Fire Lawyers acknowledging the pain this news must be causing to survivors of the most destructive fires in the state’s history last year–which has now been topped.  Their email suggested that we find ways to help today’s survivors by sharing our stories, our recommendations, our experience about how to cope, how to face the reality that your community has been destroyed, your home is gone, and your nerves are frayed and you feel fragile, yet decisions are bearing down on you every hour of the day.  At the time that email arrived, it was too much to ask of me.  I could not even bear to think about it.  I moved the email immediately out of sight, set it aside in my “Relocation” folder.

Now, a few days later, unable to escape the images and news of Paradise, Thousand Oaks, and Malibu, I feel capable of sharing some insights that may be helpful to today’s survivors.

How did I do it?  How did I move through the decisions that had to be made?  How did I find the mental and emotional strength to sort it all out?  The answer to that is that when you have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and there is only one direction to go, you do that.  How was it so clear to me that we had to leave Santa Rosa?  I want you, dear reader, to know how much I loved Santa Rosa.  I still cry.  I cry not only because I loved living there, I cry because such a beautiful little city was decimated.  I cry because the senior community of Journey’s End was destroyed and we can’t recreate it.  I cry because I know how much it hurts my former neighbors to lose what we had.

We fled in the middle of the night.  Flames were everywhere, not licking at our car windows like the videos I’ve glimpsed of people trying to get away from a Paradise in flames, but it was terrifying nonetheless.  We saw glowing red, orange and yellow everywhere, the wind whipping it into a frenzy.  We saw neighbors’ homes engulfed, we couldn’t tell whether it was two or three homes, it was a big fireball fueled by wicked winds.   We saw a charred car on the side of the 101 highway and still burning–nobody was in it, and a police officer was present, directing evacuees around that lane.  We evacuated early, so we were not trapped in traffic.  I can’t imagine–I don’t want to imagine–I know how terrifying it was and my heart breaks for them.

So how did we go from that terror, sadness and chaos on October 9th to closing escrow on November 22nd?  In large part, it was me.  While members of my family seemed to be a little lost in hope that there was some reason to stick around, wait it out, see what happens, every molecule in my being shouted to my brain: Get out of here!

#1 – The smoke polluting the entire region was toxic.  I have a health condition that puts me at higher risk, but even without that, it was really bad to be breathing that smoke day in and day out.  The smoke wasn’t going anywhere.  Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties were on fire and it took weeks to get it under control.  We had to get away from this and the only thing that made sense for us was to head south, to be near family in southern California.

#2 – Immediately file a claim with your insurance company and with FEMA.  Immediately figure out how to do that and get it done.  Fortunately for my family, I am a very organized person and I was able to pull it all together.  Keep every receipt, take a photo of every receipt as you go along, and upload the photos to a secure folder in the cloud.

#3 – Get back to work as soon as possible.  For people whose employment is local, that is a much bigger challenge.  My husband’s job was impacted.  My situation was more flexible, since I work online, I can work anywhere as long as I have a laptop and internet access.  My boss told me to take it easy, time time off, do what we needed to do–but for those first few days, there was really nothing we could do other than wait…wait for access to our personal belongings…wait to meet an insurance adjuster…wait for FEMA to come through.  So working was a relief.

#4 – Avoid the news.  Avoid hearing and seeing the devastation over and over, all day, every day.  Give yourself a break!  Shut down.  Unplug.  For Californians, thankfully, we have access to dispensaries that provide non-narcotic relief from anxiety, insomnia, and depression.  I bought some tinctures in the days after the fire.

#5 – Realistic expectations are vitally important.  Set them early and reset them as you go along.  It was unrealistic to hope or wish that utilities would be restored to our homes–our homes were damaged but still standing–but the infrastructure, the underground utilities–all of that was completely melted.  Our mobile home park was served by an onsite well.  The pipes and pumps were destroyed, and the well was contaminated.  I did not need to know that before I made a decision to leave Santa Rosa.  The smoke was so bad, and the recovery would require years–it was painfully obvious–we could not stay there.  There was nowhere to live!  We couldn’t stay indefinitely in a motel.  We couldn’t leave our cats in a kennel indefinitely.  We simply had to start over!

#6 – Someone has to be decisive.  In this crisis, it turned out to be me.  The pivotal reality was that I had to get away from the smoke and I had to get back to work–my family’s welfare was on the line.  It was not necessary to get hysterical or manic, it was a painful realization that was stated quietly and firmly, with sympathy.  My mental health had to be preserved so that I could function.  So my priorities were what they were:  self preservation, people are depending on me.  I had an obligation, a duty, to my children, to my mother, to myself.  Sanity is paramount.  Be realistic.  Take care of yourself.

#7 – If you can withdraw money from your 401(k) to invest in a new home, do it.  I did not feel so bad raiding my retirement account, knowing that real estate is usually one of the best investments you can make.  I searched for a condo that would be easy to sell in a few years.  This was a strategic purchase–not intended to be a permanent solution, but rather an immediate solution with a likelihood of paying off later when we figured out where we really want to retire–if we cannot go back to Santa Rosa, then where?

So this is my little contribution to today’s survivors who may be looking for clear advice. Every situation is unique, but these things apply to all.  Get it together, solve the immediate problems of where to stay while you figure it out, then figure it out and try to make the best of things.

Above all, what gets you through it is the gratitude of the fact that you did survive.  That gratitude got me through a lot.  We escaped.  We escaped a firestorm.  A year later, that gratitude still lifts me up above the sadness.

Wishing you a year filled with kindness, grace and gratitude.

 

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ABC News: One year after Tubbs fire

 

Imagine: The Afterlife

30 Mar

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The Afterlife

It’s Spring and Good Friday and Easter and all that jazz, and it’s a good time for me to answer the conventional thinker’s ultimate question:

Do you believe in…?

 

Here is my infinite answer:  I prefer wonder to belief.  I like to imagine the unconventional possibilities.

That is for real my genuine, thoughtful answer.  I have given The Afterlife a great amount of thought; decades of contemplation, study, and out-of-the-box pondering.  And I have decided, I absolutely prefer wondering over believing!

It doesn’t bother me that people I love like to believe in a certain persona, a certain locale, a certain aesthetic, a specific theme–that is their right to choose what they like to imagine and adopt as their reality.  I think it’s fine to do that–whatever gets you through the night!  I really do not think that God cares if we like to imagine this or that.  I really don’t worry about that.  It really seems obvious that God has a thing for variety, colorfulness, infinity, and such characteristics as are prevalent everywhere!

I really think it is perfectly safe for me to imagine the possibility that imagination is another dimension.  I have written extensively about that in Saardu.  What if having an active imagination is a real doorway into an alternate reality?  What if what we imagine to be so, when we leave this molecular spacetime place, becomes our reality?  Do you really want that?  It’s fine if you do, I get it!  I can see the appeal, maybe, in some cases.  But what if it’s okay for God’s children to imagine…something…else?

I did not care for the notion of “soul mates” until I met my husband.  As we shared more moments, I experienced something I never had before–I was 51 and I realized I had never fallen in love before.  I had experienced wanting a relationship, wanting it to work with a certain someone; I had experienced brief infatuations, and I had accepted marriage proposals, but I had never felt this.  It felt as if we had always known each other, as if we had been playing a game of hide-and-seek and had finally found each other again.  All the love songs suddenly came to life.  It was weird.  Really weird.  I’m a pragmatist, I like scientific stuff, I don’t like paranormal $#*!  I don’t like “spiritual” stuff.  I don’t like the idea of ghosts and I do not believe in demons at all, no fear, no worry.  That’s not real.  So what was this “soul mate” feeling stuff?  Honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t care that I don’t know.  It’s fun:)

I like the idea that he is my soul mate, that I am his, that we are two beings that do this yin yang thing over and over in various forms and settings.  I like Zenya, a lot.  Zenya is my 11th Dimension.  It’s a pretty friggin cool place, if you ask me!

0104lilybunnyI like my ideas of what comes next and where we came from.  I like my ideas about what we really are, what Earth is, and why we can’t hear the telepaths around us (the “animals”).

Easter is about new life.  Spring is about new life.  It is a time when at least a billion people celebrate the possibilities of life beyond this strange rock.

Love, Peace, Joy and Jazzy Harmony

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there is no death

 

 

 

 

The Magic of Art as Stress Relief

25 Mar

What is ‘Art’?

I can’t answer that with a wordy definition.  I can show you what Art means to me.

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Alex Nodopaka Nude 2002-03 

It has been a rare privilege for me to become friends with the artist who created this graphic image (right).

I first met Alex Nodopaka as a virtual presence when I began reading poets at AuthorsDen.  Before his artistry began to ripple and riddle my brainwaves, to be honest, I have no recollection of ever visiting an art museum.  The thought of an art museum bored me.

The only painting I liked (before Alex introduced me to the world of Art)  was…you guessed it…starrynight

And the only reason I knew about Starry Night was thanks to a song I had heard on the radio at age 14.  (Cheers for Radio GaGa!)  No cheers for the impoverished public education that failed me.

alex-langostino-earings-dec-10-20161.jpgHere is the man who would teach me–not to love Art, but that I already loved Art and had been emotionally starved, much in the same way that extremely poor children already love candy but do not know it until a generous soul shares a bite.

Mind candy is magical!  Transformative!  (Plus it has 0 calories, though rich beyond measure.)  Critics sprinkle words like ‘transformative’ sparingly, and readers, probably more often than not, fail to register the depth and breadth of its definition.

Surrealism

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The first instance I was captivated by Alex’s surrealism in 2003.

These days, often overwhelmed by the insanity of “the White House”, exasperated by hypocrisy, broken dreams, misinformation, and a strange war on fact-checkers, Alex and I find relief in a creative project titled Poems to a Friend.  It is a shared journal that we write in once or twice a week, back and forth, stream of consciousness, sharing whatever we wish to say or point to in the moment.  Often he shares a link to his latest published artwork (several online journals feature his work).  The journal is to be published upon his exit from this life stage.  It is my shrine to his eminence, to the artistic genius that has expanded my consciousness and contributed to the quality of life, not only that I now enjoy, also indirectly he has enhanced the perspectives of my children, friends, and everyone in my sphere of influence.

Alex’s artistry is often disruptive and sometimes disturbing–but in a way that I find appealing because it is intoxicating.  Even when I do not like what I am seeing (the way I do not like the taste of tequila, but I like its mood-altering potency), I do not quickly avert my gaze because something in the composition compels me, like a vampire that bites not to suck the life out but to make you immortal (like him).

In closing for now, my suggestion is, for a breath of fresh perspective and to help plant trees for more oxygen, use Ecosia to search for Alex Nodopaka artwork.

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1017 Randomly Beautiful Moments
Available at Amazon

 

Why I Advocate for Medical Marijuana

22 Mar

medicalmarijuanaI write this here today for my teenage granddaughters.  Advocating for medical marijuana to be legal in the world is important to me because:

1) My best friend Patty successfully avoided opioid addiction by using marijuana for pain management.

2) My daughter–your mother–was referred to a CBD clinic by her oncologist and it helped.

3) I watched a documentary series called Weediquette, in particular the “Stoned Vets” episode about relieving PTSD symptoms so our wounded warriors can function better at home–something I personally care about because your momma’s daddy, my first husband, M. Arndt, suffered tremendously from PTSD.  He was arrested for possession of marijuana, which triggered the crisis that tore us apart.

4) In 2016, I stopped using Zoloft and started using medical marijuana to calm my nerves.  I have struggled in ignorance with depression most of my life.  In 1993, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and started using Zoloft to treat the constant anxiety I felt because of many traumatic experiences that happened to me, starting in childhood, in my teen years, and into my life as a young adult.  Finally, when your Uncle Keath nearly died in the womb but was born three months early, and for 73 days I visited him in the NICU and witnessed horrors happen to other families too, it changed me forever.

5) Research and reports of cases about babies and seizure control–cases where placebo effect cannot explain away results–have further convinced me.

These are the core reasons I follow and read news such as this Forbes article about the U.S. Congress proposing a bill to protect medical marijuana from Jeff Sessions.

First, I want to talk about why Jeff Sessions’ name appears in the title.  Sessions hates marijuana and refuses to see any medicinal value, even though it has been scientifically proven effective in treating seizures and many other problems.  Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.  That means, according to federal law, nobody has the right to use marijuana for any reason at all.  Even if their doctor prescribes it–it is illegal to prescribe it, it is illegal to research it, it is illegal to grow it, distribute, or use it.  “But Gramma Carmels,” you might say, “it has been legalized in many states!”  True.  Voters in many states have moved to legalize it for medical use, but it is still breaking a federal law and can be prosecuted in a federal court by a federal law enforcement agent, such as a U.S. Attorney–the public servants whose focus and priorities are directed by Sessions.

Sessions, as the U.S. Attorney General, could have decided to let it be, to let the states’ laws rule in their land, but instead, he has declared war on medical marijuana.  He is actively trying to enforce the federal law banning all marijuana use, disregarding the U.S. Constitution’s provision for States Rights.  What makes that especially wrong is that Sessions, in other matters of law and order, has been an advocate for States Rights–when it comes to matters he personally favors, but when it comes to medical marijuana, he tramples on States Rights.  That is a classic example of hypocrisy–saying you are for something and your actions say the opposite.  He is either for States Rights or he is not.

The reason this matters is that, as long as marijuana remains on the Schedule 1 list, universities and scientists in America cannot study it.  That may be too simple or too broad a statement, but basically that is the fundamental problem.  In order to really get the research needed to discover and prove all of the potential medical uses, marijuana must be removed from the Schedule 1 list.  Until that happens, we are relying on the research of the international community, and fortunately, countries like Israel and Germany are leading the way.

I hope this helps to provide some light as you make up your own mind about how to vote for your future.

Gramma Carmels

Carma is an American poet and author, publishing a variety of ebooks under her maiden name, C.Y. Dillon, and under Carma Chan to honor her Chinese stepdad. Her grandkids call her Gramma Carmels.

Ninety Days

7 Jan

After The Fire

A quiet, peaceful Sunday morning adorned by fog…
which she loves so much the more than fire.
Now the calming colors of coolness surround her new home
and the serenity of poetic thought instills the aimless hour
with its lackadaisical aptitude for lack of a daisy in winter.

She’s back.  To normal.

“We have normality.  I repeat, we have
normality.  Anything you still can’t cope with…”
and so on as Douglas Adams would have us laughing
if only we would let him into our hearts and minds.

She’s back to whiling away the hours writing
whatever she wants to write about. Now it’s about Him,
Daddy Jon, the man behind the name, Chan.

Dad died in 2001 before the towers and the family is so
relieved that he did not have to experience that heartbreak
as a mortal on american soil. She thinks of him often in his
dimension bath robe and slippers smiling at her through 
the Buddha he brought into her western world.

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His story is fascinating.  How he got here, how he met her mother, what made him adore the idea of suddenly inheriting and caring for her six children.  What makes a man like that?

Something worth writing about.  Something to strengthen the happiness, the gratitude muscle.  How well her mother taught by example this ancient proverb:

A thankful heart is a merry heart.

Thankful To Be Safe And Well

23 Nov

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It has been 45 days since we fled for our lives and watched in horror from a hotel room as television news crews witnessed entire communities, including ours, burn to the ground.  I can never forget those feelings.  Now, on Thanksgiving Day, I am overcome with amazement and gratitude that we are safe and well.  If my husband had not awoken as early as he did, if he had not investigated why it smelled like a campfire, we might have been among those who were trapped by flames on all sides.

Today we do not care about turkey or feasting or bargain hunting.  Today we paint.  We powered through the emotions, pushed and pulled through financial hurdles, and found a place to call home, and yesterday at 5:30pm we received the keys to our next adventure.  Together.  Safe and well.

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Tomorrow we get WiFi and lots of little touches that make it Home.  Saturday we check out of the hotel that has been our temporary shelter, and introduce our three kitties–who are also noticeably thankful to have survived that wretched night!–to their new safe haven.  Sunday we wake up at home.  Home.  It has a whole new depth of emotion associated with that word, that sound in my head.  Home.  Home Sweet Home.

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Giving Thanks for a New Home

19 Nov

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Week Six

It was evident within days of the firestorm that destroyed our community that living in Santa Rosa was no longer an option.  The issue of affordable housing had already been a factor in the region, and with multiple disasters hitting the U.S. in September and October, a sudden shortage of new construction materials would mean higher prices and longer waits.  Compound that problem with the necessity of City and County reorganizing and rethinking how best to rebuild, and now you’re talking years before we can return to Santa Rosa.  Our decisions had to be made immediately and would impact the rest of our lives.  For me and my husband, it made sense to return to SoCal.

We are fortunate in that I can work anywhere via internet and my husband can find work in any major city.  At first we considered San Diego because my husband’s son lives there and we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation in that sunny, breezy, beach city.  The other idea was to invest in a condo near California State University in Long Beach because my son is transferring there in 2018, and since I promised to help him through college, this was the most practical location.  It was with some trepidation, however, that on October 23rd we signed a contract with our future and opened a 30-day escrow period; tomorrow we sign loan documents to seal the deal, and on Wednesday we will have the keys.

This year on the fourth Thursday of November, we will begin moving into the top/front unit in the building shown above–the one with the beautiful arched window over the balcony.  Donations from co-workers, friends and family combined with a partial insurance payout buffered most of the loss, and pulling a chunk out of retirement savings made our Thanksgiving home possible.

Our joy is mixed with sorrow, however, while my husband’s Mom remains in dire straits.  Her insurance policy did not cover the full cost to move the mobile home, she still owes $19,000 to the bank, and reports of looting in our neighborhood have kept her on edge.  She has been very sick for two weeks, and has been staying in hotels or with friends for six weeks.  We hope she can sell her home soon and start over in a city near us that has affordable homes for retirees.

JEMHP-SaharaStIt has been a daunting post-traumatic period, cushioned by many acts of kindness and friendship.  Throughout this epic loss, the blessings of living in a civilized country have kept us from sinking into poverty and despair.  The firestorm would have incinerated the entire region were it not for thousands of brave people and the advantages of technology pushing back the flames.  We are most thankful that my husband awoke when he did, that our lives were spared, and that we did not lose everything.  ♥

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Image courtesy of LivePuntaMita.com