Spoiler Alert: Then My House Burned Down. Woolsey Fire in Malibu

Spoiler Alert: Then My House Burned Down

By November 12, 2018Tips & Tricks
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Thursday November 8 was my birthday. Like a small child I do enjoy celebrating my birthday. I woke up in the morning to learn of a tragedy the night before just 10 miles from me. The Borderline shootings. Insane tragedy. I spent the morning in tears for those beautiful children and their families. Then I put on my makeup, phony happy face & saw my clients.

I cut out early from work & drove down to the beach to have a fun time with my 9 year old, Miles. My husband called and said “I’m excited to celebrate your birthday tonight, I’m leaving early! By the way, there’s a fire in Camarillo.” All I had to do was turn my head to see a plume of smoke over the mountains. That fire was not expected to reach us.

woolsey fire malibu

Those aren’t clouds, that’s smoke.

To be honest right now I don’t even remember my birthday celebration. I am in such a daze. I got a 10 page card from Miles titled, “Stof we liyke to do together Happy birtday mommy” So beautiful! It had drawings of us eating, walking on the beach, playing chess (he always wins) and laying in bed watching TV.

We did go to dinner at Kristie’s, Malibu, a local restaurant and I remember Greg, the owner saying, “hurry up and order cuz the power company is shutting down the power due to the high winds expected.” (Southern California Edison has been responsible for many fires over the years because of their equipment being unable to handle the wind. So they shut off the power to thousands.)

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Photo credit: Kristies’ waitress

I was awakened by an emergency alert on my phone that read, “Mandatory evacuation. Leave Malibu West immediately.” How does one process a message like that? We sleep with our balcony door ajar as we enjoy the fresh air. It was upon wakening that we smelled the intense smoky air. Our eyes met what appeared to resemble a New York winter (our home town). But instead of snow, it was ash. Thick ash. We could see perhaps 4 or 5 feet in front of us max. Because of this we packed quickly and very little because I was so afraid for our breathing. We had no masks. I was petrified really.

What does one pack when they are scared and can’t see very well? Somehow in the fog of this reality, I did pack Miles’ baby book and his birthday card as well as my dad’s ashes which I had in an anchor necklace. (He was in the navy in the Korean conflict. One of his favorite expressions was, “Nearest land? 1 mile, straight down.) Couple pairs of shorts & maybe 2 shirts. I firmly believed the firefighters would keep our house safe.

Instead, it took us 5 hours just to get out of Malibu. The line of cars down PCH resembled a parking lot full of abandoned cars. Except they weren’t abandoned. The procession was so long and congested with no other outlet that moving was slower than a snail’s pace. We watched the smoke plume from the Woolsey fire behind us. I was desperate for news but we had limited internet. And there really wasn’t much coverage. The whole drive was like a dream. Correction: a nightmare.

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Pacific Coast Highway at a snail’s pace

I had a gorgeous, generous offer from my cousin Monica & her husband Spence to come and stay with them. They offered without my asking. So we spent another 3 hours driving down to Oceanside in San Diego county. Never really thinking our house would burn down to the ground.

Sadly, that’s exactly what happened. I feel really stupid; we were in between insurance companies. We had none. The people you read about from Malibu are famous super stars who live in homes nobody can see. They’re on huge properties behind gates most of us will never have the opportunity to experience. The majority of us are living in condos and town-homes. I’ve seen the tweets and read the Instagram comments, “let it burn”, “who cares?”, “they deserve it”, “karma”, “they have other homes elsewhere” … honestly, I’m astonished by such judgments. Regardless, I’m here to attest to the fact that “my” Malibu is made up of every day people who work hard and love their community. Malibu is a wonderful group of people from all walks of life and all socio-economic levels.

We are alive! Rejoice! I am so happy that I still have my son & my husband. And my own life. Thank you. I thank the Lord. And honestly if I had insurance I’d not be this upset. I’ll never have an hour of no insurance ever again in my life.

Malibu is still burning and I pray that no one else loses their homes and I hope that everyone stays safe. There just weren’t enough resources for the firefighters to save our home. Many many people lost their homes. It’s been an epic tragedy. Our lives will never be the same.

We have to start from scratch. I have’t really formulated my thoughts about all this. I go back & forth in my head between gratefulness and intense sadness. Every time I think of going through the rubble looking for my dad’s watch (which has been passed down three generations) I start crying my eyes out.

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See the blank space? That’s where my condo was.

Things aren’t just things, they are items that make up our lives, help us to sleep, nourish our bodies, give us comfort. And yes they are replaceable but is that really the issue? It’s true a well-lived life isn’t measured by what one has attained but rather the character with which they’ve attained it. And yet, here we are, faced with starting over on day one and from this view, that seems a daunting, exhausting task indeed.

Miles’ Christmas List Here

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Donate to the GoFundMe here.

This only happened to us 2 days ago. I will continue to update this article as things unfold and develop. Thank you.

Tuesday morning

I do remember something from my birthday, I remember reading on NextDoor from some gorgeously generous psychologist that she was offering her services for free to the families and those affected by the Borderline shooting. And she was asking other mental health professionals to do the same. Isn’t that what is so beautiful about community?

My emotions are reeling. I’m all over the place in my head. I have gratitude for yet another beautiful day here in Southern California. But I woke up at 3 in the morning freaking out about all my child’s artwork that is gone!

Words of wisdom:  Please take pictures of anything your child creates that you want to save. I really wish I had done that.

Another Update Later Tuesday Morning

The outpouring of love has been utterly heart wrenching-ly amazing. I am so very, very blessed to be surrounded by such warm & generous people.

The community of Malibu is so strong and everyone is really sticking together.

My family has been incredible to me. The love I am receiving is making this whole process so much better. I don’t feel alone.

donate woolsey fireTuesday Night

(Woolsey fire still blazing.)

I’ve never met more amazing people then I have over the past few days. People are reaching out, offering kindness, love & stuff. And they’re letting me cry. It’s unbelievable.

So I Have to Work Today, Wednesday

Luckily I can work from anywhere. I see most clients on the interweb. We use Zoom or something. I just cancelled some of my clients I knew quite well. They were so sympathetic. But people I didn’t know (1st or 2nd sessions) were kept on the schedule. I didn’t want them to suffer as they really want the help & that’s why I’m here!

This was really a hoot. So I can’t tell them what I’m going through. Most of my clients are around the country and some around the world. They didn’t ask & I didn’t tell them what was going on. If I did I would’ve bawled crying! Whenever I think about it & whenever someone says something nice to me it makes me cry my eyes out. I need to consult with a psychologist as to why I do this. Need to know.

Ok so, yes, I’m staying with my amazing cousin Monica & her generous & hilarious husband Spence but did I mention they’re having their house renovated! Apparently today was jackhammer day. And I didn’t have my amazing Jane Hugentober painting behind me, you know the one in some of my profile photos? Oh! I loved that painting so much! I’ll try to post more of them on my social so you can see.

Anyway it’s jackhammer day & I was doing my best to concentrate amidst the noise. My clients didn’t complain. Maybe because I was using a headset instead of the amazing microphone I used to use. Maybe it didn’t pick up the sound…or maybe they didn’t say anything and are going to cancel their sessions, I don’t know! I hope not!

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There’s Spence jackhammering away!

The Amazing Bits

We went to Costco yesterday to get Miles some books. People did drop off books and some are coming in the mail from the most amazing people in the world. But Miles consumes 3 or 4 books a day so we needed some.

I’m standing outside of the bathroom waiting for Miles & Craig with all the books and some wild Alaskan halibut for dinner. I swear to you a little girl, no more than 7, is holding the hand of a girl about 4, very motherly, looks at me and says, “Do you need help?” I had to ask her to repeat because I couldn’t believe my ears! What a little sweetheart! I looked around for her mom but I couldn’t see her. This girl doesn’t know how she made me so very happy. My face is obviously completely stressed out. She is so observant! What a love 🙂

I’ve been contacted by complete strangers offering their homes and their belongings. The love pours in!

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Miles made this for me. I kept it on my desk & thought of him while I worked.

Ita Stupidly Asks for Stuff

This being my first house-burning-down rodeo, I had no idea what to do. So I posted on my facebook that anyone in the Oceanside area who had 1 or 2 shirts and shorts for a 9 year old boy please let me know. This was about Sunday, not sure it’s all very blurry.

I cannot tell you how many people reached out from around the country to send me their stuff. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness mixed with a bit of sadness that I needed charity. (That’s kind of busting me up that people have to do things for me and give things to me.) I later revised my post to say that I was sadly mistaken as an unobservant mommy I didn’t realize Miles just really needed toys & books.

Suffering Breeds Generosity

A lovely woman named Naomi from Camp Pendleton brought me so many bags of clothing, a Star Wars toothpaste set for Miles, shoes, socks, food–all kinds of food, bottles of water and juice, tons of stuff! An amazing man who stopped by when only Spence was home–you have to hear Spence tell the story. (I won’t do it justice.) He was absolutely blown away by the generosity of this man. He drives up in a car that must’ve cost $200, get’s out with a plastic bag, walks up to Spence who’s in the front of the house and says, “Is there a little boy who lost his house staying here?” When Spence responds in the affirmative the man tells him that this bag is for the boy.

My heart breaks at Ankit’s kindness. That was his name. I have his number & I saved it. Do you want to know what was in the bag? Brand new box of pencils, brand new box of crayons, notebooks, you know, school supplies. I heart school supplies! I heart Ankit! The kindness!

Amazing realtor Paul Sidwell rallied up the troops in his town of Kansas City and gathered hordes of stuff from generous people. The list goes on.

We Can’t See Out the Back Window of the Car

Just today, Thursday they’re starting to let people back into Malibu. Not to Malibu West where I’m from but I imagine that’s coming soon. We’ve packed the car to start our sad journey back up north. We have a few very generous offers of  a bedroom from people who really want to help back in LA. That’s the thing. People really want to help.

My advice to you if (and I pray it never happens to you) you ever lose all your stuff along with your home. Do not ask anyone for stuff. Remember you essentially live in your car. If people want to send you stuff tell them, “No.” When I finally discovered that we couldn’t take any more stuff I realized how hard it is to reject their generous offers. I feel like I’m being mean!

The other thing is, all that great stuff people are giving you? You can’t find it in your car! I texted Ankit & told him I loooooooove notebooks! Love them. I asked if it was ok if I steal one of Miles’ notebooks. Right now I’m desperate for one of those notebooks! Right now! I would have to empty the entire car to find one.

What Can I Do?

When I’m back on my feet I hope to have loads of information for people about how to navigate the crazy waters of figuring out how to get back on your feet after a natural disaster destroys your home & belongings. We’re still navigating FEMA and haven’t even begun to address “where to go next.” I’m trying to figure out how to advertise my GoFundMe page because I can’t stand that my friends and family are sending me money. I hate having to take charity! I never thought I’d be in this place in my life.

I donate! I volunteer! Me & Miles have been volunteering at a farm where we’ve met beautiful people also volunteering their precious time. I’m surrounded by love!

donate woolsey fire

My business is in a helping profession. I have my degrees in Speech Pathology and I help people to use refined & persuasive communication skills. I love my clients!

I have a mini side business where I make all natural & organic moisturizers & soaps. I donate some of the profits to charity. I am a giver not a taker, so it kills me to be in this position.

As for now the only answer to the question, “What can I do for you?” is give your prayers and your financial assistance. That’s the only answer. We unfortunately live in a society that isn’t based on bartering for goods & services. I’d love to go back to those times!

What I want? I want you to share this story as well as the GoFundMe page with your networks. My venmo is:  ita@olsenspeech.com I’ve had a couple of friends do that and you know how you can add emojis? Well they’ve just used the fire emoji. Quite clever and you have to laugh at yourself and your own misfortunes, right?

I don’t Know What to Say

When people hear that my house burned down in the Woolsey fire they have different responses. The best response by far (unless your house has actually burned down) is, “I don’t know what to say.”

The worst answer is: “It’s just stuff. It can always be replaced.” I have that one on a text. That stuff can always be replaced. My son’s projects that he’s created for science class? His art work? All of my travel journals that my dad encouraged me to keep?

Oh no! Don’t go to bitter-town, Ita! Don’t do it!

OK, phew! I’m back!

Let’s see what’s in store for me around the next bend. I will try to be laser focused and build up better then ever! All the love, support & donations we’ve received will be paid forward!

Donate Woolsey Fire

Just google donate Woolsey fire and you’ll find pages and pages of organizations collecting funds from beautiful, well meaning people. Let me tell you, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances whose houses have burned down and we aren’t seeing any of it.  I’m not trying to go to negative town here because this has been difficult for me & for all of us who’ve lost everything; it’s been depressing to say the least. It’s done a number on our psyches, our self-worth.

From now on I won’t be donating to huge organizations I’m donating to the individual people. And I must say there are people out there who are smart and generous and kind.

If you want to help the survivors of the Woolsey fire here are some places to donate:

Miles Christmas list

MomClone Gift Card Gatherings

Our GoFundMe

 

1 Month after the Woolsey Fire Burned Down My House

My family & I have been treated with such kindness over this past month. A portion of my homeschool operation has been replaced! I have more clothes than I did before the fire! I’m going to be able to replace most of the Buka ingredients I lost so I can get back to making my amazing lotions & soaps.

Select-a-Bed in Agoura Hills offered all the fire victims $1000 per family toward bedding at their store.

And you’re going to be so jealous! I had a visit from celebrity stylist Joanne Lavin. She and her assistant brought me her own clothes & accessories!

 

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