31 July 2008

Summer Days

As you can tell from the picture we had a blast with Pam and family. We/They did crammed a ton of things in three weeks. They didn't think they would have the nerve to drive on the other side of the road, but with the help of our genius "Tom'Tom" sat. nav, they actually drove from Santa Barbara to Disneyland with no mishaps whatsoever! So they did the Southern Cal thing for their holiday out here: Universal Studios, Disneyland, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, La Brea Tarpits, the beaches in Santa Barbara. And then they sampled a bit of what lies north of us. We took them on their very first camping trip. Indrasen and Pam are pukka city folks. Their idea of fun is shopping malls and noisy cafes. But the kids were bursting with excitement about sleeping in a tent among giant redwoods. So their parents co-operated without even a squeak of protest. We camped out at Big Basin State Park near Santa Cruz. It's a gorgeous place forested with towering redwoods. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm. We went on a few hikes and cooked a hearty meal. Everything went well until the next morning when we decided to go on one last hike. Indrasen, for whom the whole hiking out in the woods deal is completely foreign, got attacked by a swarm of bees. Poor guy! His first camping trip and a rare walk into the forest and those nasty beasts punish him! Aiyaiyai! Seven ugly stings in total.

From Santa Cruz we went into San Francisco where we showed the highlights - the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, the exploratorium, etc. We discovered an excellent South Indian restaurant called Dosa south of Market Street. It was one of those yuppified Indian restaurants where everything is presented in an artistic way, but the food was splendid. Daryl and I also had a meal at Greens, our favorite place in the city. Greens is near the marina at Fort Mason, exclusively vegetarian and has the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the entire city. After San Francisco we spent a few quiet days in Santa Barbara and then it was time for Pam and family to return to South Africa.

Now, I'm trying to return to a writing routine. But first I go to LA for a conference. This is a huge, annual shindig where everyone in the children's books industry get together.

09 July 2008

Sanity Returns

It's been a week of chaos and worry. When the Gap fire broke out -- really close to us - we saw the smoke and flames within an hour of it starting- we were issued a warning that same night. We had to pack up our valuables and irreplaceable items and be prepared to evacuate. Thank heavens for our amazing and wonderful friends in Santa Barbara. They reached out, calling us constantly and opened their homes to us when we did have to evacuate on Thursday evening. What a spooky evening it turned out to be. The fire had grown rapidly. The mountains near us were covered with columns of smoke and enormous flames. Before the evacuation order I decided to take my relatives visiting from South Africa away from the smoke and ash. We went into downtown Santa Barbara where things looked saner. However, the sky was grey and the sun was an orange ball. We had a pleasant hour or two walking along State Street. Just as we sat down to dinner at Pascucci's - a popular Italian restaurant in town - Daryl called me on my cell and gave the awful news. We had been evacuated and I wouldn't be able to drive back home. We would be spending the night at the home of our friends, Premi and Sri, who happen to live less than a mile from our place. Adrenalin kicked in. Our house could burn down. Did we really take everything that we really treasured? What a weird feeling! All the energy and effort we put into making our home special and it could all disappear. I instructed Daryl to grab as many CD's as he could before leaving the house. He had already taken our most treasured books and photos and things to his office the previous day. Driving back into Goleta turned out to be a challenge. First, as entered the city limits it was like entering a new planet. It was completely black from a power cut plus thick smoke which seemed to blanket the whole area. The freeway exit we needed was closed so we had to drive on. I didn't know if we would be allowed into the neighborhood north of the freeway. We managed to take the next exit, but Fairview Ave was closed. Luckily I was able to take smaller roads and finally found our way to Premi's. Phew!!

Premi and Sri made us very comfortable. The next morning 4th of July -Daryl and I walked into our neighborhood. We noticed the fire had moved away. The mountains above our house were charred, but there was no longer any smoke there. At that point I was pretty sure our house was safe. The worry more or less disappeared. Now we had to deal with the inconvenience of being away from home. But our truly amazing friends did everything possible to make it all pleasant for us. We went to a 4th of July BBQ at Adrienne's and Bisi's place. The kids played in the pool and there was plenty of good beer and food and great company for the adults. Our friend, Anil, gave us the use of his entire apartment for that night. So, once again, we were pampered. "The evacuation order was lifted the next day (July 5) - thank heavens! And so we were able to return home and being cleaning up and unpacking!

The fire has been such big news that my other big news item seems small in comparison.
On Saturday, June 28, there was an ALA (American Library Association) convention in Anaheim. This annual event is an opportunity for librarians from all over the country to see what books are out there. Publishers showcase their current releases and offer great discounts. I was invited by my publisher to sign PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES at the convention. I got to meet my editor as well as the owners of Just Us. They were really nice and treated me like one of their family. Actually, even better. They treated me to a delicious lunch at the restaurant of the Hilton Hotel. Lots of folks bought my book and chatted with me. It was quite a fun day.