Wind and Fire

December 31, 2021

Our family moved to Boulder, Colorado in December 1965 for my Dad’s new job at NCAR.  There wasn’t a house to be found as IBM had moved in six months ahead of us.  My parents purchased a piece of land 7 miles east of Boulder on Davidson Mesa, overlooking the Colorado Front Range and Boulder valley.  


When they built the house, it was the only one on the western grassy slope of Davidson Mesa. Others would slowly be built on neighboring lots over the following years and decades. 



I remember walking the lots and trying to choose which one would be the best to build on.  My folks wanted to be high enough to have unobstructed views of the mountains and of Boulder valley.  As the house was being built, I remember my Mom, the daughter of a masonry contractor, pulling down the brick walls with her hands and telling the workers to build it right with the proper reinforcements and tie downs. The electrician who was having an ongoing feud with the general contractor for some reason, decided to wire the house in a crazy way as payback, which resulted in my Dad and I having to pigtail every outlet in the house and spend days trying to figure out which outlet and switch was on which breaker.  We had to permanently label all the outlets and switches and a room might have been wired to as many as six different breakers. 



We moved in on Halloween, 1966 amidst a snowstorm.  Over 100 kids made their way up the muddy road and driveway to trick or treat that year! 


In the first couple of years, we experienced torrential thunderstorms, which swelled the expansive soils around the house that then cracked the foundation.  We had to have expensive drains dug and placed around the perimeter of the house to keep the home from being torn in two and to keep water out of the lower level.  


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My parents poured their blood sweat and tears into the home. They created gardens, planted trees and shrubs. They created an environment that the birds and beasts flocked to.  They held parties and gatherings and loved sharing the beauty of their home with others. They hosted guests from all over the world and gave refuge to others when they needed a place to stay.  Despite the house’s problems, it was a special place.


Every winter, the winds would come – the Chinook, that swept down from the mountains, bringing warmth at first, followed by snow as the front moved through.  


 January 6, 1969, one of these windstorms came with winds of 130 mph or more, and with it, devastation.  It took the roof of our home and the roof of one a couple of lots away. It cause two major fires, one on the side of Green Mountain near the Quarry, and the other at Boulder Airport, where it flipped planes, tore apart airplane hangers and burned the airport and planes leaving little behind.  


It was a terrifying experience to have the windows explode outward over my head, to have my Dad slammed into the wall by flying closet doors, to see the 13 foot high wall of living room windows curling into the middle of the living room and to see gaping holes, where ceiling and roof once were; and later to watch the raging fires from the safety of a neighbor’s home throughout the rest of the night.  


1999 Fire

Thirty years later, when I was in a home of my own, we experienced a house fire, two days before Christmas.  The house and our belongings were a near total loss.  We lost two kitties.  But thankfully, my 4 kids had been spending the week with their dad and weren’t at home. I literally had the clothes on my back, my purse and my car.  Everything else was gone.  


It was catastrophic and until it happens to you, the magnitude, while imagined, is not the same as the reality of it.  The smell, the sounds, and the loss of a place where you feel safe and secure – it’s un-imaginably difficult.  


There were blessings too; such as the incredible support that we received from neighbors, the community, and from family, friends, and co-workers.  They carried us through.  We learned that our possessions were just “stuff” and mostly replaceable. We learned that what truly mattered were those we loved.  We were alive.  We were uninjured.  We were together.  And we could, and did, make a new home for ourselves.  New kitties came into our lives, and more than enough stuff to fill a house.  


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My parents home was damaged by high winds again in 2004, when winds over 90 mph blew the double front doors right out of their frame.  My dad and I caught them as they blew in and held them in place in 75-90 mph winds while my Mom found and brought us the wood, hammer and nails to secure them in place to prevent further damage.  The framing around the door had to be rebuilt when the door was later replaced.


Yesterday, on December 30, 2021, the two big disasters of my life melded together.  Another ferocious windstorm barreled down, knocking over power lines, that then sparked wildfires in the grasslands at the western end of Davidson Mesa.  The fire spread rapidly pushed by winds of 90 to 115 mph.  As it raced towards the towns of Superior and Louisville on the south side of Davidson Mesa, emergency personnel went frantically to warn and evacuate people ahead of the firestorm.  Miraculously, as of right now, there appear to be no missing people; that everyone may have gotten out  - a true miracle.  Over 35,000 people evacuated ahead of the flames.  


The town of Superior is virtually lost.  Over 500 homes on the western side and the old town area are burned to the ground. The shopping center, including a Target, Costco, and many other shops, are gone.  


As evening wore on, the fire moved into other neighborhoods on the western side of Louisville.  It moved across the top of Davidson Mesa down the northwestern slope where we had lived and on into the Paragon and Spanish Hills neighborhoods.  

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 I watched the news clips, hoping for a glimpse of my childhood home.  And then I saw it for just a few moments; that easily identifiable pattern of windows, unlike any other in the neighborhood, filled with the orange glow of fire.  


While this morning, it appears that a few houses may have survived; it also appears that nearly every home along that side of the mesa while I was growing up has burned.  



This fire takes with it so many memories.  While I never wanted to live in that house again, because of how the wind impacts it on a regular basis (I’m truly terrified by high winds), I will miss knowing that it’s there.  I won’t be able to take my grandchildren to show them the house that their great-grandparents built, lived in, and loved for 43 years.  I will miss knowing that no one will sit and take in the sunrise glow on the mountains from that living room window, or the glorious sunsets over the mountains with Boulder’s twinkling lights in the valley below.  They won’t be able to watch the birds at the feeder from the breakfast table as they enjoy their morning coffee anymore.  The house will no longer be filled with the presence of so many family and friends, as I know the new owners also did.

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My heart hurts for the thousands of people who have lost their homes, and those who also lost their pets. I know what they are experiencing this morning; losing everything they own in the blink of an eye; knowing they have literally thousands of decisions to make over then next few weeks and months as they rebuild their lives.  

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It is so hard to put into words all the things I am feeling about this tragedy in my home region of Boulder County, Colorado right now.  All the disasters of my life seem rolled together in this new one.  And while I am not directly impacted, it erased the areas of my growing up years.  It has brought these earlier disasters back into sharp focus.  The old anxieties have resurfaced as what was once familiar is now changed irrevocably.  Life will go on, and the old home will live on in our memories and the photos that remain to us.  And I'm enormously grateful that the loss of life appears to miraculously be zero as I write this.  The things that are important, aren't our houses, the views, but the people who live within them, and those still remain!  

I pray that all these people who have lost homes will once again find peace and joy, new homes, and that they cherish their loved ones and hold them close.


Vlogmas Day 19 - The Last Stocking!

A short video on making the last stocking for the grandkids!  Enjoy!  

I've been having such fun creating "Vlogmas" videos nearly every day this month!  It was a last minute whim to do, and I've really been enjoying it.  Such fun to create simple little videos about how I'm preparing and celebrating the Christmas season this year!  


Vlogmas Day 7

I've been posting a video YouTube nearly every day this month!  Enjoy!  


June & July - Catching Up

 I've been missing in action for the past couple of months.  Thought I'd try to catch up just a little! 2021.05.31JuneJournal.wm-4

This is the header for June in my journal.  I used a photo I had taken in England as a reference.  I loved the mix of daisies and wild grasses that filled the orchards.  


One of the biggest tasks of June, was getting the family genealogy archive downsized to a more manageable level.  In all, there were 34 boxes to go through.  Daunting to say the least! 


Thankfully, my sister came to help!  We managed to pare those 34 boxes down to 13.  Five of them hold the actual genealogy records and our Mom did a fabulous job of putting that together.  One of these days, I'll get it scanned and hopefully be able to downsize those boxes into 4 or 5 books.  Both my Mom and Dad did extensive writing about their lives and even before their deaths, I had been helping to compile their memoirs into a book format.  I work on it here and there and hope to have my Dad's done in the near future.  They each have 3 boxes of memoirs and memorabilia.  And then I have 2 of things that I've kept over the years.  We downsized my stuff too!  So in all, just 13 boxes - much more manageable than 34!  It took us a week!  


The thunderclouds were amazing the day I took my sister back to the airport!  This is the aftermath, which wasn't nearly as epic, but still beautiful none the less!  We seem to be going from extreme to extreme.  It's either rainy and cool for a week or overwhelmingly hot and exceptionally dry.  I'm so grateful that we have had the rainy periods as it is easier to make it through the hot dry spells.  


July's journal heading is a watercolor of mountain pines and aspen.  Fitting as I've been trying to spend a day every week in the mountains!  It's definitely my happy spot these days.  


I really love the watercolor tabs on my journal!  July will finish off this one and I'll start a new one with August.  


Some of my mountain visits start in the early hours of the morning, so that I can get up there just as the sun crests the horizon.  Love these early mornings.  This was in early June.  The East Troublesome Fire spread through this valley and the ridge in the background.  The meadows have recovered beautifully.  The trees are struggling.  Most of the ones you see as red will die before next summer if they haven't already.  In places, there are still healthy trees, which are a joy to see!  


I make a point of painting each and every visit I make to the mountains.  On this visit I did an oil Plein air of Big Thompson Creek.  Can you see the elk that was watching me from the bend in the river?! 


It had been a while since I'd done a plein air oil painting.  I got caught up in the excitement and forgot to do the things that help me create a more successful painting.  I'm still happy with it though!  For me, painting is mostly about the journey.  In truth, I have little space left on my walls for more paintings.  One of these days, I'm going to have to put some up for sale! 


I loved those early mornings before the sun came up!  June had some amazing sunrises!  


On this day I hiked up to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I scrambled down a steep slope and found a steady perch on a large rock where I did this watercolor plein air sketch!  Such a gorgeous spot!  I could have spent a lot more time there, but rocks aren't the most comfortable place to sit for long periods of time.  


I feel like I always struggle painting water, but I'm really happy with this one!  Using a white gel pen helps me add highlights after the painting is done. 


Beautiful Albertal Falls!  


Another day I went to Brainard Lake.  The Indian Peaks Wilderness is probably my favorite spot in Colorado.  We spent countless hours here while I was growing up.  My dad climbed most if not all those peaks in this view and led many hikes and climbs over the course of his life.  I've been up a few of them too, especially Mount Audubon, the peak on the right.  I've climbed it at least three times.  Also the ridge to the left, which is mostly out of view in this photo.  Niwot Ridge is the gateway to the peaks on the left.  I'm not nearly as capable of intense hikes like these now, so I opted to take a slow walk around Brainard Lake in the foreground.


I stopped along Mitchell Creek and did a sketch in gouache.  It's an opaque form of watercolor and handles a little differently.  The colors are more intense, so I was out of my comfort zone!  But fun to try and I think I captured the feeling of the place. 


The Marsh Marigolds and Globe Mallow were in bloom, so I was glad to be able to capture them in the sketch! 

There were lots of other things that happened in May, June and July - mostly house hunting in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.  I made 4 different trips to look at 12 houses.  I made one offer - refused as they had what they hoped were better offers.  I later heard that they fell through.  So, for the time being I'm staying put and have taken my house off the market, but I do need to find a job in the near future.  

One of the happiest things to happen in June was getting the entire family together for the first time in 16 months!  Love this photo of the grandkids with me!  

The whole family!  We took these at a park near where I live.  It was an overcast and damp day, but we were able to get our photos in between rainstorms!  While I've been blessed to see each family group individually during this past Covid-impacted year, I dearly missed having my family all together.  To finally be able to gather together was emotional and wonderful!  Truly, it was the best gift I've had in a long, long time.  


May Journal & May Issue of CQ Mag

Lilacs are the theme for May's journal!  Lilacs are probably my favorite flower, especially when it comes to scent.  All the more treasured due to their short bloom time! I was a little late getting this one set up, but managed to get it done on May 2nd.  I played with a looser version of lilacs than I've painted previously.  

There have been lots of changes going on in my life for the past couple of weeks, and it is reflected in my task list.  Notice all the packing!  Well... things have changed again, and so that's going to get postponed if not cancelled for now.  More on that in another post.  

The RV repairs have hit some snags.  We replaced the battery disconnect and the relay, which controls the flow of power from the batteries to the RV.  But now, there is no power flowing to the relay, despite everything appearing to be intact.  So, once again, we are at square one.  I really need to get this fixed so I can get it sold.  I'm not using it and it costs me money every month in insurance and it's taking up space at my good friends farm.  Time to let it go, but it sure seems to be a struggle to get it ready to sell.  I don't want to invest lots of money into it, but it does need a few basic things in running order.  Sigh.  

I changed the Covid tracking this month in anticipation of a possible move to either Nebraska or Iowa.  Despite their lower populations, I discovered that their rates of infection and deaths are in the top 10 states in the USA for covid infections per million people.  Colorado is 44th.  

It has been good having a spending tracker.  Helps me to see where my money is going.  I was trying to do this on a spreadsheet on the computer, but I wasn't getting it filled out.  With this, I'm able to put the receipts here and fill it in more consistently. It appears I spend money on the cat, on books for the kindle, and snacks.  Need to work on the snacks and eliminate them!  That would probably help my weight!  I struggle with craving salty crunchy snacks.  Goldfish crackers are my snack of choice.  Carrots just don't have the same impact! 

So, here it is the May spread.  I may need to re-do the house hunt/pack portion to reflect how the month has already changed for me. 

Crazy Quilt Magazine May 2021

Crazy Quilt Magazine: Crazy Quilt Magazine May 2021

Crazy quilting, 2020 Challenge Project, Issue #3

Find out more on MagCloud

In other news, the May Issue of Crazy Quilt Magazine is out!  Featuring the work of 8 crazy quilters and their 2020 challenge projects!  Beautiful work!  I hope you'll check it out!   


Painting A Long with Plein Air Live 21

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It has been so wonderful to focus on painting this month.  It's something I really miss when I'm not able to do it.  This past week, I took part in "Plein Air Live".  It's an online 3 day Plein air painting convention that Plein Air Magazine and Streamline Publishing has put on since it hasn't been able to their big in person conventions.  I was originally scheduled to attend the convention in Denver last year, but due to the pandemic, it was cancelled.  I was so glad when they put the convention online so I could attend anyway!  Learned so much.  So in the fall, I did Realism Live and then the convention was cancelled again this year, so once again they did Plein Air Live.  

It is three intensive days of painting demonstrations, presentations, and each day ends with a "virtual Plein Air" paint along to a video that they provide.  The painting above was done on day 3.  I feel like I struggle with moving water, but I'm pretty happy with this little 7"x5" study.  

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The paint-a-long on day 2 was this Newfoundland Bay.  Think my time on each of these was around an hour total.  

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What a delight to have them feature it the next morning in the day's intro! 

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Eric Rhoads commented about the "very, very good brushwork"!  What fun! 

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On Day 1, we painted this scene from the California Coast.  I didn't catch the exact location, but I love the contrast of the yellow cliffs with the brilliant blue water.  

All of these are in the 5"x7" range,  oil on Ampersand Gessoboard.  Watch for a sale of my small oil works coming soon! 

The May issue of Crazy Quilt Quarterly comes out in two weeks and I'm running behind on it, so no more painting until the issue is out!  I have some big dental work coming later this week, which I'm not looking forward too, so I'll be juggling the magazine with that.  Then, I'm looking at putting my home up for sale in May and moving, though I'm not sure just where yet.  Lots of changes coming.  

#pleinairlive #pleinairlive2021 


Organizing the Photo Archive

This is the first of two posts on working with photos and slides.  In this first post, I cover how I organize our large archive of family photos dating back to the late 1800s up to the present day.  In the next post, I will cover how I scan slides, as well as a little bit about scanning photos and how I organize those digital files and back everything up.   

These steps are what have worked well for my sister and I as we work our way through thousands (and thousands!) of photos.  I’m sure there are other methods, but this is how we have done it. 


First Step, start a calendar of important family dates. 


I did not start with a calendar, but as I progressed, I realized I needed to keep track of ‘what happened when’ and having it all in one place that I could refer to without having to open box after box was very helpful.  Mine is created in Microsoft Word.  If there is interest, I will add a post later about how I created this.  


The calendar includes important dates such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.  I also added the dates of holidays, house moves, trips, and other events to the calendar when I could.  To find dates for the calendar,  I used the dates found on photos and slides, in saved calendars (I had a few years of my Mom's calendars as well as several years of my own) and Christmas letters, etc.  My Mom kept most of the photos in dated albums, which at least got us to the correct year most of the time! As we went, we transferred those occasions to the calendar.  Now it is all in one place and I refer to this calendar all the time while sorting photos, as it is very helpful in dealing with unlabeled photos.  


Step Two is sorting the photos. 


I sort the photos three times: first by decade, then I sort each decade by year, then each year by month.  I write the (decade/year/or month) on a piece of copy paper and lay it out on the table or the floor depending on how large the pile of photos is.  Then I place photos on the papers according to the photo labels (hopefully!) and if not labeled, using my best guess.  

Once I have finished the first sort by decade, I put each decade in a box or large envelope.  I deal with one decade at a time.  Otherwise, I find it gets too overwhelming.  Then I sort each decade into years in the same fashion. Then each year gets put into a photo box marked with the year.  



If more than one year is in a box, I add a ¼ page of copy paper labeled with the year that I can easily see.  This paper tab is a good spot to write down the known large events such as trips, ages of children, what year they are in school, etc. This is how I kept track of things until I started the calendar.   While it might seem repetitive, I found it helpful to have both. Here is a diagram of how I quarter the sheet of paper. 


Once the decade is sorted, I work on one year at a time.  I do my best to sort chronologically into months.  While this may not be a necessary step if you have few photos, for the large number that I am dealing with, I find it very helpful.  


Step Three is labeling photos.  

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My sister and I have discarded many photos because we had no idea who the people in the photos were. An unlabeled photo is worthless if you don’t know who it is.   


As I put the sorted photos into the final boxes, I do my best to label them.  Here is my formula for labeling. 


-    Use a photo safe archival pen, such as a Pigma Micron Pen.  Pencil fades quickly, ball point and  most other types of pen bleeds through and then fades or smears, and many modern inks are damaging to photos.  I’ve tried the photo pencils, but they don’t write cleanly enough to be easily readable years from now and I found that they smudge, making it hard to read. 

-    Date the photo with year, month, and day if known

-   I use this format, which I also use when scanning and saving photo files on the computer: 2021.02.13 (Year.Month.Day) This allows the photos to easily be sorted chronologically on the computer. 

-    Names, both first and last.  

-    Location

-    Occasion 

A photo label might look like this:

19xx.xx.xx Lillian (Suzi) Fernandez, Princeton, NJ, High School Graduation

When we sorted large groups of photos with the same subject, we sometimes labeled just a couple of photos and then clipped or banded the photos together.  This saved time during the initial sort and downsize but still allows for accurate labeling in the future when there is more time. 


Some additional tips and suggestions.

-       In going through 100s upon 100s of photos, it didn’t take long to figure out that we didn’t care about the photos of scenery, flowers, wildlife, etc.  What we loved were the photos of people we knew and especially photos of them in their home, their yard/garden/farm/job, etc.  We didn’t care about photos of their friends unless it included family members or the people we all knew.  And truthfully, will your grandkids want that photo of your friend cluttering up their closet 50 years from now if you aren’t in it?  We found we didn’t even care for photos of just their pets. Those photos are for the people who took them generally.  We wanted to see the people.  So, we discarded close to 2/3rds of the photos.  

The truth is that few of our “family” photos are spectacular.  They are snapshots.  They meant something to the people who took the photo.  Years down the road when the stories that go with the photos are lost to time, the photos will have lost their meaning. 

Once in a great while, we kept a special scenery photo, but truthfully, not very often!  Having said that, my Dad especially, was a pretty good photographer.  He was able to tell a story through his photos.  But he wasn’t professional and most of them do not really have “artistic” merit that would inspire his children, grandchildren, or even great grandchildren to print one of these photos to hang on their wall.    For example; My Dad worked as a weather scientist for many years and became very interested in clouds.  Throughout his life he took hundreds of photos of clouds.  They had meaning to him and we did keep a few to share this bit about him, but how many photos of clouds did we need to keep to demonstrate his love of clouds?    

In the same way, my folks were avid birders and traveled all over the country and the world in search of birds.  They took thousands of photos of birds – adequate enough to identify the bird and say, “I saw this bird and here’s proof”, but again, like the cloud photos, not good enough to say, “Wow!  That’s an amazing bird photo that I want to hang on my wall!” Same for flowers.  I’ve kept a handful from each category to illustrate their memoirs, but I didn’t need a thousand photos of ducks to show their love of birds.  We chose the best of the best.

I also keep a box for undated photos that I cannot figure out.  Most of the time, as I work through other photos, I find similar photos that help me determine a rough date, which is good enough for me.  


Photo Storage


I use photo boxes about the size of a shoebox to keep the photos in.  They take up far less space than photo albums and it’s easier to sort and reorganize.  The ones I currently like best are from Hobby Lobby (You'll find them near the scrapbooking materials).  They have a nice finish inside, a metal label holder and a well-fitting lid.  In the past I preferred the Michael’s boxes, but lately the quality has gone down significantly, and I returned the last batch I purchased and went to Hobby Lobby instead.  I’ve found that most of the cardboard inserts provided in photo storage boxes are not high enough to be seen above the photos and too many of them are out of cheap cardboard that warps excessively making them worthless.  I just recycle them.   Instead, as noted above, I quarter a piece of copy paper, writing the year in bold on the upper left. Below it, I write any known events that year including the ages of people who are likely to be in those photos as it helps me date things and is very helpful if I don’t have the calendar list on the computer at hand. 


Once I have the photos in the box with dividers in place, I lay any larger photos on top.  If there are photos larger than 5"x7", I place them in 12"x13" oversize boxes like those below.  

These are also handy for keeping larger documents like college diplomas, marriage licenses, etc.  There aren't a lot of these large photos in my family, so I have one box dedicated to my Dad, one for my Mom, and one of general oversize photos for my kids and I.  Then there is one empty box left in case I need it for something else.  

When we did our big sort, going through 18 moving boxes of photo albums; we worked one box at a time, one album at a time.  One of us would focus on the calendar and labeling while the other removed photos.  We threw nothing out until both of us had gone through to make sure there was nothing else to keep.  Generally, we left the photos we were discarding in the album and only pulled out the ones we wanted to keep.  Many of the albums had labels written on the album itself and when that happened, one read the label off while the other wrote it on the back of the photo.  We managed to get through all 18 boxes in a week of steady work!  I had also gone through 3 or 4 boxes of loose photos prior to this, so we incorporated all of those photos into this organization as well.  

What a relief to have all those photos downsized to something more manageable.  I'm looking at moving in a couple of months and I hope to fit all those photos into only 4 moving boxes now!  

Next comes the task of completing the scanning of slides.  Most of the photos my parents took from about 1960 to the late 1980s were in slide form.  I'm pretty certain that we lost a box of slide carousels along the way somewhere as there are photos I remember having seen that we have not been able to find.  I'm over halfway on scanning slides, but details of slide and photo scanning will wait for the next photo archive related post!