Fire Evacuation List

I wrote this last year but the topic is so dreary that I never want to post it. However, it’s November and California is on fire again and I guess just will normally be from now on so this dreary stuff is important. We suffered the deadliest fire in our state’s history last week up North and many further evacuations in parts of Southern California are expected still today. Here are ways to help the victims of these fires. If you live in California and can temporarily offer your home/room in your home for evacuees and emergency workers see Airbnb here for Northern CA and here for Southern CA. Please remember that with most natural disaster, monetary donations are much more helpful than piles of physical stuff, something disaster workers often call “the second disaster.” 

Today I’m sharing our family’s fire evacuation list. I’ve always been a planning/prepared type but having kids turned me into an anxious, survivalist piece of work. It’s a fine line to walk between alarmist and realist and I try to do my best. So not long after we moved back to California, I made a list of things to grab if ever we had to evacuate not really thinking we’d ever need it. Though wildfire is a very real possibility in our neighborhood, this evacuation list was more of a just in case thing to ease my anxiety. The crazy thing is that last year I actually had to use the list. And I witnessed the horror of a deadly residential fire in our neighborhood. And now, several times a year, we are seeing community-leveling fatal fires, making this a very grim reality for people living in the Western US.

I was in the Target parking lot across town when I noticed a ton of smoke coming from the hills where we live, looking like the exact location of our house. My family was not home, but our dog was and I was hysterical by the time I arrived in my neighborhood, not knowing if our house was in flames and, more importantly, if our dog was ok. Thankfully he was but a home only 3 up from us was consumed with flames. I don’t want to go into details but we lost our neighbor in the fire, though we didn’t know anyone was in the home at the time. Heartbreaking and surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.

The fire kept reigniting and easily it could have jumped with a just a shift in winds, the preceding days being some of the windiest in memory. Our neighborhood is nestled into beautiful but scary brush covered flammable hills. We didn’t end up needing to leave, but for sometime evacuation was a possibility. Everyone, firefighters included, had the tragic Northern CA fires of the weeks before on our minds. The general mindset of neighbors was the same…screw possessions, we’re taking our families and pets and getting the hell out if need be. I wasn’t the only one packing a bag.

With fires, or any kind of disaster, minutes can really count so there’s no time for brain fog. I was pretty panicked and having a physical and personalized evacuation list (not googling last minute) was extremely helpful, comforting, and efficient.

A neighbor had mentioned that she separates her list into time categories, and I adopted that brilliant idea. If you have 5 minutes, you grab a, b, c and if you have 15 minutes, you also grab d, e, and f. The list is prioritized so you pack and prep what can in the time you have.

It goes without saying, if you have less than 5 minutes, you load your family into the car and drive. The massive death tolls of recent fires in heavily populated areas has been such a wake up call. Possessions mean nothing compared to your life so leave!

If you do have a few minutes to gather some possessions, load your kids and pets into your car and then back it into your driveway while you load, KEYS IN IGNITION. That way, if things deteriorate quickly, you are ready to roll.

I keep our list taped to the inside door of a cabinet at our kitchen desk. That is our home’s center of operations, so it’s convenient. Our list is very primitive, just scribbles on a tattered paper, but it does the job. (And, no, my list doesn’t contain even one vintage lamp!)

Here’s what our evacuation list looks like:

* the asterisked items are action steps to ready your home in an evacuation to make it easier and safer for firefighters to protect your home. They vary between households and this list is a great reference to help identify the ones that apply to your house. 


5 minutes

  • keys
  • wallet/purse
  • cell phones/chargers
  • cash
  • shoes
  • jackets
  • glasses (we’re blind over here)
  • any medications needed
  • leash
  • dog food
  • dog bowl
  • hard drive (photo storage)
  • important documents (all stored in one place!)
  • water jug


15 minutes

all of the above plus…

  • get dressed – including pants and tennis shoes
  • a change of clothes for everybody (pants, shirt, jacket, underwear, socks, shoes #2)
  • baby books
  • photo albums
  • cameras
  • sleeping bags
  • canned food and can opener
  • water jugs
  • *check on neighbors! – especially if you have older neighbors with limited mobility
  • *turn on exterior lights (makes it more visible to firefighters in dark/smoke)
  • *shut all windows and doors, leave UNLOCKED


30 minutes

all of the above plus…

  • clothes for everybody for a few days
  • toiletries for everybody for a few days
  • pillows
  • optional, depending on the situation….camping gear, lantern, radio, batteries
  • stuffed animals or a special toy for kids
  • computer
  • *turn on interior lights in each area of your home (again, to aid in visibility)
  • *open window treatments all the way (curtains, blinds, etc)
  • *bring flammable items from outside indoors (patio furniture, toys, doormats, trash)
  • *connect all garden hoses (better yet always have them all connected!)
  • *fill trash cans/buckets with water around home for firefighters


1 hour

all of the above plus…

  • more sentimental stuff (baby clothes, husband’s guitar, etc.)
  • toys, books for keeping kids occupied
  • *shut off gas
  • *move BBQ away from home
  • *place a ladder at corner of house for firefighter roof access
  • *remove flammable window coverings (for us, curtains and bamboo shades)
  • *disconnect electric garage door and close it
  • *flood roof and exterior of home with water
  • *move flammable furniture away from interior walls to center of rooms
  • *fill sinks/baths/tubs with water


A few more random things to keep in mind:

– In the heartbreaking scenario that you can’t take your pets/animals with you: DO NOT RESTRAIN THEM IN ANY WAY. Their best chance for survival is to use their animal instincts to flee. I’m in tears writing that but loving animal owners have had to make this call in recent days.

– I try to keep a stocked and updated first aid kit and flashlight in our family car as well as a couple emergency gallons of water, though we often end up using it for non-emergency times and I forget to restock.

– The minimalist in me thinks the amount of hoses we own and have hoked up on every side of our property is so ridiculous, but I will NEVER AGAIN complain about them and now proudly keep them connected and ready to flow. Residents within feet of our neighborhood fire fully utilized their ready to go hoses and believe that stash saved their home. I enthusiastically joined the more-hoses-than-you-think-you-need-and-they-are-always-connected club and all Californians should too!

– For insurance purposes, it can be very helpful to have the contents of your home documented in the unfortunate event that you lose it all. Yearly, I used to quickly walk through our house recording a video while I opened every drawer, cabinet and closet. It takes only a few minutes and you’d be surprised by what you forget you have. (Admittedly, I’ve slacked on that since I started documenting every house update, vintage furniture acquisition, etc on the internet…)


I hope none of us ever have to use any of this information, but the realist in me knows that’s unlikely. Please, please be prepared for the inevitable. Sending so much love to all the people impacted by these fires. And infinite thanks to the superhero firefighters and first responders who are battling blazes and saving lives. I’m heartbroken that my home state is up in flames again. Love you California. Stay safe everybody.



Exterior Paint Progress

Oh my goodness, this school year is doing me in. I’m only homeschooling one of my kids again this year and only part-time, but it’s such a hectic schedule and lots of driving. I feel like a stereotype and have resorted to highlighting my calendar so I don’t forget where I’m supposed to be during any given timeslot. (Literally just got up to consult said calendar to make sure I’m not supposed to be somewhere right now.) All I do is drive and listen to WTF episodes. Marc Maron is feeling more like family at this point than my actual family. (Podcast recommendations???) As always, I have so many house projects that I can’t wait to get to, but my current reality is that I can usually only find 1/2 day a week to squeeze in extracurriculars, and right now that means slowly trying to put the lid back on the can of worms that the exterior paint job opened up.

In an effort to save money, but mostly deterred by color decisions and the repairs we needed to make before painting, I volunteered to paint all the random fences around our property. The work is tedious but fine; the decisions paralyzing. I was hoping to have a “hooray the exterior is done!” post ready by now, but the best I can do is tell you all the things I’m confused about:I started with our “trash fence,” the one that hides trash cans, and the long curved fence that separates our driveway from our backyard (we have a weird corner lot). After loving the high contrast of our new exterior lights (more cute lights here), I toyed with idea of painting the fences black, ultimately deciding that I love a sun-drenched view of the backyard from inside the house. Went with white. Needed 3 freaking coats and I’m almost done but not quite. And of course I discovered a termite infestation and rotting boards and the whole fence should be replaced ASAP but who has the time or money? For some reason every fence post on our property, besides 3, was put into the ground with no concrete footing = a never-ending buffet for termites. WHY WHY WHYWe desperately need to build a new back gate after wind storms trashed this flimsy one. I wondered if yellow would be fun so I took the opportunity to try it out on the junk gate before we dismantle it, slapping on a coat of the same color I used on our kitchen pocket door. I didn’t love it at first and thought it was too much with our orange door, but now it has grown on me so much and I can’t imagine any other color. Put me down for multiple crazy colored doors please. I’ll probably go with a slightly less fluorescent acid yellow, like the one nearest turquoise below.And I’d like to return the gate to its original design, as seen on this google maps screenshot below from before we bought the house. I am that creep. The diamond!Aaaand then we have this weirdo back fence situation. The entire stretch of our driveway and backyard has this 4′ cinderblock retaining wall at the property line. The trellised fence above belongs to our neighbors and is set back a foot. Behind that fence is our neighbors’ driveway and garage at eye level and I hear that, long before we moved in, there used to be nothing between the houses! I’d love to have a monolithic 10′ tall fence across the entire back stretch of our property to hide this current mish mash, but I have no idea how to approach it. It’s no simple thing to add height to an existing cinderblock wall, and we can’t put posts directly in the retaining wall or in the ground directly in front of it because there is footing below. Our only option for in-ground posts would be about a foot into our yard. Privacy plants might be the easiest and cheapest solution, but those require maintenance and water and take up space – not ideal. I’m thinking about a wall topper/extention, where you screw “posts” directly into the side of the cinderblock and build up from there but I’m not sure if 6′ of height is feasible. I decided to go ahead and begin painting the mosaic wall white where the tan is while we think more about this one. Ideas welcome because we are stumped!!! Now on to this other fence between our backyard and side yard. Of course, it also needs repairs. This time, a water damaged gate. (But look how fresh and crisp!)Again, the mess of back fences where properties converge. How do I make that pretty??? Should I paint the chimney??? We weren’t 100% sure so we didn’t have our painters touch it. And now that I see it with the new paint job, I’m even more conflicted.  Around the side yard is where things really got thrilling! We know this fence was rotted and we keep doing quick fixes on it hoping to squeeze another year out of it. But this time the quick fix revealed the obvious, but one we oddly never considered, reason for the rot: major termite damage. OH MY GOODNESS CALIFORNIA I LOVE YOU EXCEPT YOUR TERMITES. If this sounds really irresponsible, it kinda is, but I just painted over the whole thing like nothing is happening because I need a few months before I can deal with this. Went with a dark charcoal black and I love it. It makes the fence (and my termite problems) disappear instead of looking like a continuation of the longest rambling ranch ever built.  Lastly, I’ve been so stalled on these screens. I was set on painting them black but then decided to go with textural white, and primed them accordingly. But they are so lost from the street in the sea of white when I need them to break up the long stretch of house, that I’m thinking of going back to the original plan of black. Pardon the weeds and random chair collection.  A very lo-fi mockup has me excited. Now trying to decide if I should use the same dark charcoal on that side fence or go true black. And what sheen? I drove to the paint store the other day and then drove away because I couldn’t make decisions.Oh and I forgot the other thing I need to deal with. The painting inadvertently killed some of our plants. Agaves are generally ok with abuse. Don’t water them. Dig them up and leave bare roots out in the sun for a month. NO PROBLEM. But dare cover them up with something like a drop cloth for even one day, and they will revenge rot/die on you. Our beautiful agaves by the front door took the brunt of it. And the sansevieria experiments in the rock bed above that were barely hanging on before the dropcloths are pathetic now.
So there you have it. My can of worms. The good news is that I LOVE LOVE LOVE the white house. It made our black roof look beautiful (who says stuff like that?) and offers a minimal and graphic backdrop to all the plants and furniture and colorful doors/gates. Best of all, it’s such a better match to what is going on inside the house. I still have a moment of doubt every time I see a dramatic black house or a pastel aqua beach bungalow, but I think I made a good choice this round for this particular house. Now to nail the other 50 decisions and ignore my termite problems…And I’m sure there’s typos in here but carpool duty is calling so sorry goodbye!!!!

Halloween Madness

It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year…and I went a little crazy with the Halloween touches. The past few years I’ve become a holiday decorating minimalist, so this is me really going all out, haha. If not at Halloween, when? Proudly, all the Halloween items still fit into 1 storage box, but there’s fun stuff going on in most every room of the house this year and I’m feeling it! Basically me right now:Starting out front with the new white paint and new black fixtures and the new-to-Halloween orange door!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE. This was the year for exterior transformations and dang have we come a long way since our tan and turquoise 2017 Halloween. I didn’t change much in the entry from last year. We are still using this weird old organ as an entry table! The den was given Halloween decoration crumbs, but look how festive! Spider webs are becoming my favorite Halloween addition. Big impact with minimal storage. (Do you notice the couch swap I am experimenting with? The colors are working.) We are still doing this. Probably until my kids are 40.
My very complicated addition to the kitchen/front window. Whoa, we even spilled the festivities into the bedrooms (see this one here). OVER THE TOP.
We’ve been doing Halloween family movie/show nights every Friday…Spooky Buddies is an all time favorite of my kids and I tolerate it for the Halloween campiness of it all. But we recently started watching The Addams Family together (the original TV show), which I loved as a kid but haven’t really watched with adult brains, and it is SO GOOD! They are all I want to be. Tish is my new role model. What are some of your favorite Halloween movies/shows? And do you go all out decorating for Halloween or pass? xoxo Jenny