Lissa's blog. It's very heart-rending to see a list of lives in upheaval - whether they're in New Orleans or San Diego, regardless of their race or wealth or whatever. I think having lived there just makes me more fully aware of the reality, the fragility of it all.
We lived in some lovely apartments on Carmel Mountain - I think within about a mile of where the fires have hit.
When John finished engineering school around Christmas of 1994, Ria was a year and half and we were just expecting Gus. It was a terrible year for entry level engineers, my parents had just moved into a fairly roomy house in Poway (from Silicon Valley - huge improvement in housing costs!) and so we decided to try the California job market. We lived with my parents for several months - basically during John's job hunt - and moved into one of the Carmel Mountain apartments a month or so before Gus was born.
It was a huge complex and we were a little naive moving into it. We moved into a one bedroom apartment (already a financial squeeze) before Gus was born and then discovered that we were required by law to move into a two bedroom apartment once he was born. We bought our first real mattress on credit ($500 - ouch!). We were paying our own medical insurance and John had no days to take off when Gus was born (double ouch!).
But I wouldn't trade a moment of it. We only had one car, but Ria and Gus and I walked around the apartment complex like crazy (would that I was in that kind of shape again!) and knew all the office staff and, most especially, the mail lady. There was no playset in the complex (unfortunately!), but some of us moms would meet in the tennis courts to let the kids run around. Our two bedroom apartment had noisy upstairs neighbors and the car alarms went off constantly, but the corner bedroom had the most beautiful light and we put a little sand in the "garden" on the porch for Ria to play in.
We were great dumpster divers in those days. We found a beautiful drop-leaf table next to the dumpster (which I later gave to my mom because Gus kept hitting his head on it and he had a way of reacting that scared me to death). We found a free dryer that had literally eaten the previous owners socks (seriously - there was a pile inside the dryer - it might have been a joke, LOL). A few months after we moved in, we managed to squeeze out the cost of a pass to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and milked it for all it was worth (it literally expired three days before we moved back to Wisconsin) and practically lived there.
I remember meeting with some sort of financial planner in those days (after answering his ad for a free table and chairs). I think he thought we were nuts. We were way in the negative as far as things like "net worth" go, but we were working hard and had confidence that we'd be in a better place some day, somehow (even if it involved moving back to Wisconsin!).
It didn't take long to realize that the complex was out of our league financially. Most of the residents had two incomes AND seemed resigned to never purchase homes AND were comfortable in rather nice apartments, choosing to invest in expensive cars. Our old beater Toyota Corolla (with which we had pulled the smallest possible U-Haul trailer with all our earthly possessions all the way to California some months earlier - see photo) looked terribly out-of-place.
We finally did some more apartment hunting and found an older complex in Poway (located in another threatened area, I believe), closer to my parents and John's work and far less expensive. Many of our neighbors were on welfare (and I certainly wouldn't lump all of them into one category - we were quite fond of most of them but one drove us completely bonkers) and our patio overlooked the dumpsters (it also was smaller than the sample unit we were shown) but it worked out beautifully for our second and final year in the San Diego area. It had a little backyard (all cement) that backed up against a grove of olive trees. We filled the front patio with flowers (Scaevola as I remember it) in order to improve the view. When they pulled the pine tree out of the bit of dirt in front of our front window, we found rose bushes in January at Walmart for $2 apiece and they started blooming within about a month (I think). When we visit the area, we still like to drive by and see our rose bushes. It's nice to be able to leave something beautiful behind.
Ria (2-3 at the time) made great friends with the handyman of the complex - a Mexican immigrant named Jesus. The apartment manager refused to call him by his given name. When I was writing out Christmas cards, Ria decided she wanted one for Jesus and made it out in her own unique handwriting and hand-delivered it to him. I don't think we realized how much it meant to him until he brought over a little present for her - a little scented pillow with angels on it. He later told us that all of his family was in Mexico and he would probably spend Christmas drunk. We will always remember him.
The inside of the apartment was pretty bad - in fact a lot worse than we realized. It was heated by little space heaters that were mounted on the walls. I was terrified of having Ria in a room by herself with one of these, so during the winter I made sure she slept in our room. Late in the winter, we discovered horrible black mold all along one wall of our bedroom. A pipe had leaked inside the wall and made a real mess of things there and behind the kitchen cabinets.
We loved our years in San Diego. It was so good to spend those years with a lot of my family, the people there were really wonderful and the memories will, of course, last a lifetime. My thoughts and prayers are with all of them.
(By the way, all of my family except for the one brother and family I've been mentioning in my post have sinced moved away from the area.)