Saturday, August 24, 2013

Twenty Minutes-a home destroyed by fire


      I visited the Winger's home to bring some ballet shoes we picked up for their little girls after theirs were destroyed (along with everything else) in the fire. They have three year-old boy/girl twins and a five year-old daughter.   It is hard to describe the difference between hearing about someone's loss and the visceral experience of breathing in the smokey air.  It was not the pleasant smell of a campfire or barbeque. It was the smell of burnt teddy bears and plastic toys.  There were blackened ceilings and melted flooring. The blankets knitted by the children's great grandmother were destroyed by smoke.  Toys made of plastic absorbed the smoke and became toxic and unfit for play. The wall of family pictures Leah lovingly arranged in their hallway were burned to a crisp.  Only square shadows of the frames were left imprinted in smoke on what was left of the walls.

 Jeff and Leah Winger, their three year old twins and five year old daughter

This was three year-old Ben's room.  Can you imagine your child's room looking like this?
     I volunteer for the Red Cross.  I have been in shelters helping families while fires raged threatening and ravaging homes. We have anxiously watched the news as fires burned near our home.  I thought I got it.  I did not.  And I don't get it the way the Winger family gets it.  They saw the firefighters throw their children's burning toys out the windows of their home because they could reignite the fire.  They saw the physical memories of their family destroyed in twenty minutes.  Twenty minutes.  Twenty minutes is how long it took from the moment the children's grandmother smelled the smoke and called 911 until the time the firefighters put it out.  Twenty minutes.  The rooms where they tucked their children in at night turned into burned out caverns. The sense that their children's rooms are a safe space will never be the same for them, even after their house is rebuilt.     When that twenty minutes was up, they could fall through the floors of their son's room into the garage below and see the sky through the burned out roof.  They have gone back day after day to see what, if anything can be salvaged.

Leah's doll from childhood that she gave to her daughters and Great Grandma's handmade blanket.

    The finish came off the kitchen table as the children did art projects and rolled hot wheels across the top.  This was the table where their father enjoyed family meals as a child and played with his own toys on the surface. The table was considered a loss because it was no longer properly sealed.  I went back to the Winger's home on another day and picked up that table so that Greg can sand and refinish it for them.  They lost almost everything of sentimental value in the house.  We hope that this well loved table can be salvaged and saved for them.  Greg is happy to help and I will help with the project in any way I can.  

     There have been times that the batteries have run low on our fire alarm and a screeching beeping noise has rung out through the house.  Dare I say that I found that sound annoying?  The truth is that we should have been changing the batteries on a regular schedule, rather than waiting for the alarm to beep..  If their children had been home and the fire alarm had not been functional, it is extremely likely that their children would have died in the fire.  It is amazing how fast a fire spreads.  We will make regular battery changes on our alarms a priority now.

   The play room, books, toys and closed door to the master bedroom (which still had walls because it was closed)

       While I could return from their burned home and wash the smokey smell from my hair and clothing, they don't have a home in which to return.  The Wingers prepared for their daughter's first day of kindergarten in a hotel.  They needed to go out and get her a 'first day of school dress' after hers was destroyed in the fire.  Jennifer Fischer of The Good Long Road  (who does a tremendous amount to help people in the community and through her blog) met me at the Winger home when I went back there to pick up the table.  She had already written a wonderful article about their family in the news and, like me, had a new understanding of the fire after smelling it and seeing the aftermath firsthand.

     The children have not seen the burned out remains of their home and they won't.  When it is in the later stages of rebuilding, estimated to take nine to twelve months, they will see their 'new house' being built.  Twenty minutes.  In twenty minutes a home can be destroyed or help can be rendered.  Most of the twenty minute blocks in our days go by without significance.  Maybe you can take twenty minutes to check your home's fire alarms and make sure they have batteries.  Perhaps you can make a donation to help the Winger family. Maybe your children could learn about acts of kindness by having a bake sale (or finding another creative way) to help.   Maybe you can share this post on your Facebook page to spread the word. The Wingers' twins are only six months older than the Sugar Snaps. Their daughter is the same age as our niece.  Seeing their burned rooms was terrifying. I will never forget the smell of burned toys.  We are doing what we can to help.  Any help you could provide this family would be appreciated. You never know when your own family may need help.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Fun at Underwood Family Farms

    .  One place we love to visit  is the Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.  This is a great place to take toddlers and young children, complete with a petting zoo, fruits and vegetables that you pick yourself.   I've shared several posts about Underwood, though not by name.  If you'd like to visit the farm, I would suggest checking out some of these posts to see all of the wonderful things you can do there as a family (links underneath each photo). 

     Children under two are free and ages three and up are $3 per person during the week and $6 per person on the weekends.  If you want to do the petting zoo or rides, tickets are an additional cost.  You can pick your own produce and pay at a reduced rate or buy produce on your way out.  They have a great Halloween event with pumpkins galore and a fun Spring festival complete with the Easter bunny. 

We picked Kale in March of this year and made kale chips fresh from the farm.

 Last week, our niece Emma bonded with the sheep

 The mini train ride was a huge hit. Giggles of delight rang out louder than the train's whistle.

 Our kids loved feeding the Emu (for a quarter a serving).

Capri was enchanted by the beautiful white horse

while our niece Emma relished picking raspberries.

After picking berries, they walked hand in hand down the path.

     If you are visiting Southern California, I highly recommend visiting Underwood Family Farms.  It is a wonderful way to spend time as a family and to show your children where their food comes from.  Our kids enjoy the fruits of their 'labor' after a fun day at the farm.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interactive Aquarium Adventure

     We love spending time in local aquariums, enjoying the wonders of the ocean and sharing them as a family.  On a recent trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house, we had the chance to visit an aquarium.  I glanced back on another trip to the aquarium a year ago and this one over the holidays and was amazed by how much the Sugar Snaps have grown.  They are able to recognize and appreciate so much more now.  We have transitioned from monologues about the environment to dialogues.

The exhibits were interactive and educational.

 They had wonderful toddler learning centers that included shape puzzles and water play
After gazing at the wonders under the sea, it was fun to see the creatures above the Bay.
     Before having the Sugar Snaps, Greg and I enjoyed spending time scuba diving under the sea.  It is nice to be able to see the sea life and share it with the Sugar Snaps now that we are too busy to dive.  Have you enjoyed any aquarium adventures or beach trips this summer?  I'd love to hear from you. As always, comments are welcome.


Monday, August 5, 2013


    I took the Sugar Snaps outside for water play using the water table which they love to do. They also enjoyed feeding the fish and turtles in our tiny pond. I looked over at a flower bed in the side yard inhabited by weeds, felt a twinge of guilt and walked briskly over and pulled some out.  Then, after glancing to make sure everyone was all right, I sprinted to the greenery bin and tossed them in. I enjoy gardening but it has been neglected since the Sugar Snaps became active toddlers.

Capri wandered over curiously and pointed at the weeds still left in the bed. "What's that Mama?," she asked.  I explained that those were weeds that I was pulling out of the garden.  She immediately wanted to help and all three of her brothers came over and wanted to pull weeds too. 

       It's funny that something we think is work as adults is great fun for toddlers.  It took me back to when I was little and enjoyed helping my parents pull weeds. I learned so much from helping them in the garden and it didn't feel like work at all.  They reminded me that even weeding can be fun when you look at it through the eyes of a toddler. Perhaps I can get weeding done after all and it can be a family adventure instead of a chore. Do you enjoy gardening with your children?  How do they feel about pulling weeds? I'd love to read your stories in the comments.
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