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Fires and fleeing

After the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando recently my friends Michael and Michelle were kind enough to put me up for a night in their nearby home. They served me a home-cooked meal and set up space for me to crash in one of the kids’ rooms. I got to visit with their kids, meet their trio of big dogs, but mostly catch up with them and enjoy some down time. It was one of the most relaxing respites I’ve had in months. Thanks again, Michelle and Michael!

From their place it was off to the airport on Saturday afternoon. After a quick layover in Miami, I was on my way back to San Francisco, putting me at home just after midnight. Unfortunately my luggage did not join me. All the luggage from the Orlando flight missed the Miami connection, leaving a third of a plane full of disappointed travelers. Thankfully I had no where else to be but home, so a luggage delay was no big deal, they delivered it to my home the next day.

Following this trip, I should have had nearly two weeks in town to prepare for three weeks of travel abroad, but nearby wildfires had different plans for me. By Sunday night smoke from wildfires in Napa and Sonoma had descended upon the city. It was fun at first. We didn’t realize how close the wildfires were getting to homes and business up in Napa and Sonoma and it was a bit like camping, with the wood smoke smell drifting in through the windows. By Monday morning the reports had started coming in from up north about how bad the fires were, people were losing their homes, some historic buildings were lost, wineries we frequented were taking precautionary measures. At home I was clearly coughing, and come Tuesday my chest was tight and sore from the coughing. This was about when we all learned about airnow.gov and could start tracking the air quality. With the levels remaining at “Unhealthy” on Wednesday I finally heeded the advisories and closed the windows. This made our condo quite warm, getting up to the mid-80s, as we lack air conditioning and usually depend upon the breeze from the windows. This was when MJ first suggested I fly back east to spend time at the townhouse in Philly.

Still, I spent the week as I usually would. MJ and I had some dinners together, Caligula and I chilled after work, one evening I made banana bread when I realized the bananas I had delivered with groceries earlier in the week were a bit more ripe than I had expected. In spite all the tragedy in the reports coming down from wine country and being cooped up, the smoke hanging in the air did make for some fascinating views of the sun and sky. Our sunsets were dripping with pale red, making some doomsday shadows on our walls.

I wasn’t the only one taking photos of the red-tinted sun on Friday evening when MJ and I went to the Synagogue for Shabbat services and Simchat Torah.

Simchat Torah! Jewish congregations read the Torah from scrolls made of parchment and hand written by a scribe in Hebrew. This means there’s a beginning and end of the scroll, and with the Jewish new year behind us, Simchat Torah is when you read the final passage at the end, and then the scroll has to be wound back to the beginning. To celebrate this, our synagogue took the opportunity to fully unravel the scroll and our Rabbi gave us a tour of it as we all held it around the sanctuary. It was a pretty special thing to be a part of, I’m glad we both were able to attend, even if it was earlier on a Friday evening than we tend to go to events, due to proximity to work timing-wise.

That evening after services was when I decided that going back east was not a crazy idea. It actually just meant leaving five days earlier than I had planned on, since I was already planning on going out a day ahead of my trip to Raleigh for the All Things Open conference. MJ helped me find a good itinerary and rebook my ticket for a flight out of San Jose on Sunday night instead of the following Friday.

Saturday night we fled to a nearby hotel to enjoy the climate control which would give my lungs a break until I flew out. Plus, it was a relaxing mini-getaway that allowed us to enjoy their executive lounge, where they had chocolate mousse in chocolate cups!

Plus the views were nice. The sunset was quite a bit less apocalyptic by Saturday evening. In fact, I started reconsidering my trip back east, had I over-reacted?

It turns out I probably hadn’t over-reacted. Though there was some clearing of the air on Sunday and we were able to spend some time outdoors, but fires and winds picked up early in the week to make San Francisco smokey again. I did feel a bit bad for leaving though, I’d miss being home, my husband, my cat, and I wasn’t quite prepared to leave so soon on a trip that was already taking me away for three weeks. Taking care of my lungs was important and we have the townhouse in Philadelphia where I can stay without needing to make prior arrangements or costing us anything more. Childhood asthma seems to have done a number on my lungs, but thankfully MJ isn’t prone respiratory issues like I am, so he seems to have toughed out the smokey conditions with no ill effects, like most other people I know in the city.

Plus, it ended up working out really well for work. Most of my team spent most of the week in Europe, and with our MesosCon Europe planning I had a few 7AM pacific meetings, which is a much more tolerable 10AM eastern time. It also gave us the opportunity to get the sprinkler system in the townhouse inspected on schedule and get some work done on the sprinkler pipe that we had talked about to make room for a future water softener. It’s also my favorite time of year in Philadelphia, I love autumn. The temperature and low humidity was such that I could open the windows and enjoy the fresh air for most of the day. I also lucked out precipitation-wise and ended up with beautiful, clear skies all week.

I was pretty anti-social during my visit though. I took a ride share from the airport to the townhouse upon my arrival on Monday morning and then spent Monday and Tuesday at the townhouse on my own. Wednesday and Thursday evenings I finally made it out to visit with friends, which I’m finally also doing today. Today is my last day in Philadelphia though, tomorrow morning at 9AM I’ll be on am Amtrak train with David down to Raleigh for a Sunday evening arrival, hopefully coming in with enough time to go to the opening social for All Things Open. I have a lot of open source friends and colleagues attending the conference, so I’m really looking forward to it, even if I do have to depart Tuesday evening with enough time to catch a 7:40PM flight that takes me to Charlotte, London and finally Prague for MesosCon Europe. I have a few busy weeks ahead of me, I’m not entirely sad about taking the time to myself to catch up on personal projects.