The Santa Barbara House Fire

My husband Mike is a tortillero, which means he has been in the tortilla business his entire life. For years we were owners of a mid-size tortilla factory. We had over 150 employees, and I was in charge of Human Resources. This was a part-time job; I was working short hours to see to our family’s needs. Since HR required wearing different hats, I was also in charge of all Workers’ Compensation. Several times a year I had to attend mandatory conferences to stay informed with the ever-changing laws.

Anaheim Convention Center Conference

The conference was an all-day meeting with executives from different insurance branches speaking about safety and how to prevent injuries. I remember signing up for the lectures on the lawsuits  because we had suffered from two frivolous, related claims that year.

Sonja’s winter formal

Our daughter was a junior in high school, living the life of a carefree teenager. During the conference lunch break I called Sonja. There were no cell phones at the time so I waited my turn to use a public telephone.

Just An Ordinary Day for Sonja

Sonja answered the phone, but the conversation took so many turns that I had forgotten why I called. “Are you and dad going to give me a summer job? If you are, I can only work part-time. I need a couple of days off during the week so that I can go to the beach.” This was just part of her roller coaster ride of a conversation. Sonja went on to talk about her winter formal dress. “When can we go shopping? I need shoes for the dress, I want them to match perfectly. If we can’t find the right color, I guess we can buy some white satin ones and have them dyed.” By this time I was out of breath. It was the last part of Sonja’s conversation that I could not believe, “By the way, your son called, he said that the house in Santa Barbara burnt down.” Now I was speechless! “Wait! Wait! Can you repeat that? What are you talking about?” I yelled. Again Sonja repeated that the house in Santa Barbara had burnt down. I could not breathe! I called Mike and he could not breathe. Was Mikos alright? He and his friend were living in our house at that time. Mikos had already contacted Mike, who was on his way to a meeting with Alpha Beta (a large grocery chain). After the meeting Mike immediately called Mikos, “Are you okay, did anyone get hurt?” Mikos was pretty shaken up and answered that both he and his roommate Rick were fine.

Chicago, Mikos and Rick, in Rick’s room

Mikos’ Story

Mikos was a junior at Westmont College. Instead of staying for chapel, he would go home in between classes to cook breakfast. Rick, his roommate, had just broken up with his girlfriend and was feeling melancholy; so he lit a candle in his room, then jumped into the shower. While Mikos was frying some bacon, he noticed dust coming from the backyard. Rick’s room was the converted garage. His first thought was that Rick was dusting out his floor rug. Then he remembered that Rick was in the shower. Mikos went out the kitchen door to investigate, and, as he approached the door of Rick’s room, he realized that it was on fire. He ran back inside to inform Rick that his room was on fire. Another friend, James, was visiting. Mikos yelled out for James to call 911. Then Mikos ran back outside to assess the fire.  James could not find the cordless phone and did what he thought was best for himself. He grabbed his backpack and skateboard, jumped out of one of the bedroom windows and rode off into the sunset. In the meantime Mikos was frantically looking for the phone. He found it buried in the couch, called 911, and ran back outside with a garden hose to try to put out the flames. If you live in Santa Barbara you would understand that the water pressure in this city is the worst. Seeing that the fire was out of his control, he ran back inside the house to try to salvage whatever he could. The firemen arrived and quickly put out the flames. The fire chief questioned both Mikos and Rick, asking if they had had an argument of some sort, or if one of them started dating the other’s girlfriend. They were both so scared straight they could not lie. Well, not until one of the firemen came out with a sock in his hand. The young fireman called  Mikos aside and pulled a stash of pot out of the sock. “Is this yours?” he asked. “I’ve never seen that, no, it’s not mine,” Mikos nervously replied. The fireman then said to Mikos, “Well then, we won’t report this to the police.” The sly fireman put the pot carefully back into the sock and hid it in his jacket. He scored a free hit of pot from two vulnerable, traumatized college kids.

Fire and Rain

Sonja was partly right; half of the house was damaged. Mike arrived the following morning to meet with the insurance adjuster. We were frustrated with the adjuster’s report. The insurance agreed to only pay for the part of the roof that was damaged. They would replace the windows only on half of the house. Since the kitchen and bathroom were functioning, they considered the home livable. Then came one of the greatest rainstorms in the history of Santa Barbara. No plastic tarp could keep the torrential rain from causing more damage to the already impaired cottage. Mikos said that every night during the storm he had to get up on the roof to staple the tarp over a huge hole caused by the fire.  He was worried that the roof would cave in because the ceiling of his room had swollen with water. He’d call us to complain, but there was nothing we could do. Mikos was finally growing up and, literally, worrying about the roof over his head.

We had to call the insurance adjuster again because the fire happened just a few days before the rainstorm. Now we had to deal with two different claims. It was an uphill battle but we finally got everything squared away. It took a total of six months to get our home in Santa Barbara in order.

Mikos and Rick quickly became friends with the construction workers. This was a new type of fraternity that had special fringe benefits: new drinking buddies. Mikos claimed that after the construction was complete, they had the best party in the history of Westmont College, and James was in attendance.

Our Santa Barbara home

This is why I could only work part-time: our kids were still driving us crazy. On the up side, I can honestly report that our daughter Sonja was always on the honor role and is one of the most responsible adults that I know. Perhaps we spoiled her but in the end she has learned to live a wonderful, productive life with her two sons and husband Russ. Looking back at Mikos’ life, I would say that I had to pray for him a little more than for Sonja. I’m happy to report that all his life experiences have caused him to become a conscientious young man. He is a great husband to Jenny and father of two.

Don’t Worry…Learn to Pray

We had the means to rescue Mikos and set him up at a hotel while our home was under construction but we chose not to.  When Sonja started working while she was in college, we stopped most of her personal financial aid. We made these decisions because we felt that our kids needed to fend for themselves. This was also my genesis in the world of effectual prayer and trusting God. I dove in and never came out.

Santa Barbara Cottage

We still own our little home in Santa Barbara, located a block and a half from Ledbetter Beach. It has served as an investment for us. We always talk about taking it over and making it a vacation home, but we’re all too busy for that commitment. In the meantime, a wonderful family of four has been occupying our home responsibly for over ten years. I thank God for that!

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I was Scammed…Twice

Mike was traveling more than usual so he decided that we needed the Ring device. The Ring is a doorbell equipped with a camera. It rings when there is activity  within the eye of the camera. To me, the Ring is just another “big brother” device watching our every move. When we first set it up, it was over-sensitive and would go off with a slight breeze. The Ring also became a secret agent for Mike. I don’t usually order things online, but due to the lockdown I was forced to.  In the past I could just sneak in the packages without the local police knowing about it. Now nothing escapes Mike. During the pandemic I was shopping online because my favorite retailer was selling items for 70% off! So I purchased some merchandise; who wouldn’t at that price? The problem with pandemic shopping is you can’t hide anything!  I came across a retailer on Facebook called loveforjesus. They were closing  and all their wonderful Christian merchandise was on sale. Their product line was really appealing: shirts with the word faith written in the form of a cross,  jewelry with crosses looped through an infinity silver necklace, and bracelets.  How can you go wrong with the closeout price?

Order Placed

Look at their fake logo, but I really like the necklace
I still love this shirt

On March 20th, I placed an order totaling $41.67 and paid through PayPal. On March 22nd  I received a confirmation with an order number. The email stated that they were getting ready to ship the merchandise and would follow up with a tracking number. It also stated that due to the COVID-19, the shipping would be delayed by an additional seven days. This was the first red flag. On April 8th I received another email; this was to inform me that they were forced to switch shipping companies. “The new shipping company is charging more, but don’t worry, we will pay for that. For all the inconvenience, we would like to offer you 20% off the already reduced price.” This was red flag number two. I logged onto their website and did some Mother’s Day shopping. This time the total was $50.37 for Jesus t-shirts for my daughter Sonja, and daughter-in-law Jenny. I was so pleased with these purchases, and Mike was going to be so elated with all the money I saved.

Mother’s Day Debacle

Each time the Ring device would go off, I thought it was my order from loveforjesus. I started to get a little worried, so I ordered back-up Mother’s Day gifts for the girls from Nordstrom Rack. I emailed loveforjesus and my email came back with Mailer-Daemon (I always thought it read mailer demon). I was beyond outraged, and I had all the time in the world to fight. I sent another email and received this:

 

Charles (Customer Service)

Apr 29, 14:30 -05

Hello Lynda,

Thank you for your message.
One of your orders is in transit and the other is ready for shipping.
You will receive a confirmation as well as the tracking number as soon as it has shipped out.

Kind regards,
Charles

Ciriza7

Apr 28, 23:33 -05

I find that your company’s lack of professionalism is what troubles me the most. Where are my two orders? Even if they were coming from a slow boat in China, the merchandise should have already arrived. Please refund my money.

Lynda Ciriza
Sonja, me and Jenny on Mother’s Day

I got the bank involved, and the money was quickly reimbursed into my account. The bank will deal with these cyber heisters. Nothing angers me more than using the name of God in oder to gain revenue.

Sonja

I was to embarrassed to share this with Mike but if Sonja got wind of this, she would take it to high heaven. I only wish I had not mentioned that I had ordered some Jesus t-shirts for her. I knew she would remember because she said, “Oh, no thank you.” So I had to tell her that the Jesus t-shirts never came in. Then came the interrogation, “Where did you order them from?” My reply was short and sweet, “What does it matter, they never came in.” PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME YOU ORDER OFF OF FACEBOOK! she sounded off. “So what if I did! Did you pay for it?”I answered.  Mom, you are never supposed to order from accounts on Facebook! Did you check their reviews?” “What do you mean?” My next thought was, why would I need to check the reviews on a company that was named after our Lord “loveforjesus“? Sure enough, Sonja was right. When we checked the reviews they were mostly complaints, and many customers referred to them as scammers.

Mike

Mike manages all of our finances, and though I have my own credit cards, he still pays them.  I had to tell him about the fake Jesus company. “Did you give them your credit number?” He asked. Even though I’m still writing checks, this was an electronic exchange payment. “Yes, how else do you pay?” I answered. Then came the lecture. “So now they have all of our information?” Mike was upset, I wanted to tell him that at least they don’t have our first born, but I dared not. After almost 49 years of marriage you’d think he cut me some slack.  It never matters because whatever it is that I’ve gotten myself  into, Mike will fix it. This is a constant.

Mikos

My family never lets me get away with anything. After Sonja made this a topic of conversation on Mother’s Day. Mikos added, “Mom, are you still hiding packages from Dad? Will that ever change?” “I guess not!” I replied, with a sarcastic look on my face.

PayPal and Facebook

Are not these two conglomerates reputable? PayPal was the first to wash their hands of this, stating that since the bank, and not me, came to them, it was my problem. Even if I had attempted to contact them, I’d still be placed on hold. Facebook does have a headquarters phone number, but they handle themselves via cold media: no contact, no bond, and no human voice. In the meantime the merchandise never arrived.  I still reserve a little ray of hope that loveforjesus will come through, but I’m not holding my breath.

loveforjesus broke the second commandment:

Exodus 20:7 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

 

You shall not invoke the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.

In other words, loveforjesus, you’re going to pay for this scam. And the best part about this is that God is going to deal with you.
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First and Last Camping Trip

I guess I did laundry in the nearby stream

I’m resurrecting an old story that was introduced three years ago.

Isaiah 43:1-2 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

But now, thus says the Lord,
    who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name: you are mine.
When you pass through waters, I will be with you;
    through rivers, you shall not be swept away.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
    nor will flames consume you.

Be Prepared

When we planned our first camping trip we purchased a four-man tent, along with all new cooking utensils and sleeping bags. We were excited to drive up to Twin Lakes with our kids. It was summer the of 1978, when Mikos was five years old and Sonja was three. We must have used one of our delivery vans  because I distinctly remember it having one side- sliding door and seating for only the driver and one passenger. Our children traveled safely on a bed of sleeping bags; there were no laws against that at the time. We drove for hours until we reached the campsite. Two forest rangers greeted us at the entrance to the campsite. We paid the camping fee and were handed a flyer with a composite drawing of a rapist in the vicinity. I studied the face of the criminal, then dropped the flyer on the floor of the van. Great fear gripped my heart because of that creepy drawing.

Our brave captain

Camping Snobs

I told Mike that we were not there to make friends and I wanted to be far from any crowds, so Mike did just that. We could see campers from a great  distance; so far this was a perfect plan. Our site was a long distance from the public restrooms, but I was fine with that as well. When night fell it got dark; this type of darkness was black, scary dark, so dark  that you could not see your hand in front of your face. We had our flashlights and got into our sleeping bags for the night. I was scared of the dark and the rapist’s face on the flyer was still fresh in my mind. I tried to sleep but I could not. I felt like there were bugs in my newly permed hair. It was uncomfortably cold – so cold that I had to put on another layer of clothes. After tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep. Then I heard Mike’s voice, “Are you awake, Lynda? Are you awake?” Now I was wide awake. Mike told me that he was going to move the van in front of the entrance of the tent so that if anything happened, I was to grab the kids and lock them in the van. What did Mike know that he wasn’t telling me? I asked Mike why, and he told me to be quiet and try to get some sleep. Well, I was asleep until he decided to add more fear to this living nightmare. Every noise – the wind rustling, and the strange forest sounds – was amplified, making my life a living hell. By morning I was just happy to be among the living. It turned out that Mike overheard some campers talking about a bear sighting. Mike thought that we were going to be attacked. He had a medium-sized knife to fight off the beast. I knew this unfortunate aggression was real, and that the bear would be the victor. I’ve seen the movies, and I wanted to go home!

Mikos, me (the dead perm), and Sonja

I had just had my hair permed and, back in the day, you had to wait three days before washing your hair or the curl would come out. It was day two and I had to wash my hair; because of the imaginary bugs and dust, I could not wait for the third day. When Sonja and I walked to the showers, I had no idea that they  were communal. You had to pay for the water usage: a quarter every five minutes. So in the middle of washing my perm, the water shut off! Could this get any worse? I wrapped Sonja in a towel and sent her out for more quarters. “You tell your dad that he better have at least five quarters!”  As the result of this disobedience to my hairdresser, the perm went flat and I looked like one of the Beatles.

Family Fishing

Our provisions were scarce because Mike decided that we were going to live off the land. So in order for us to eat dinner we had to catch our own fish. We rented an outboard motorboat and traveled for half an hour to what seemed to be the perfect spot; however, I had to go to the bathroom, so poor Mike  had to turn around and dock the boat while I used the facilities. We finally reached a good fishing spot and cast our lines. At first we waited and got nothing, then Mike got a bite. Mike caught a good-sized fish which would have been our dinner, but when he unhooked the fish, it was flopping all over the boat.  The kids started crying. It was too much for these city slicker kids to see the suffering and torment of the poor creature. “Please Daddy, please put it back! Put it back!” they cried. Mike set the fish free, and we had eggs for dinner. Thank God, because the last thing I wanted to see was fish guts.

Kum Ba Ya

I tried to keep the inside of the tent tidy but the dust and insects won, beating me into near insanity. Remember that I requested to be away from the maddening crowd; well, that didn’t work out so well either. Each night, while I prayed for morning to come, we could hear singing and laughing . Now I longed for camping friends, but it was too late in the game for that. I never experienced campfire talk first hand,  scary ghost stories (I was living it), nor the singing of Kum Ba Ya. From a distance we could hear the other campers, and by the scent from their camp fires, they were probably eating s’mores.  We roasted some hot dogs and went to bed. After a while the laughter and singing annoyed me. I wanted to sing and eat s’mores, but we were camping snobs.

Take Me Home

For years I could not understand how people enjoyed camping. The stillness of the night was an unsettling reminder of how vulnerable we were. The ferocious bears, and the eerie sounds of  birds was like being in a haunted forest. The best part of this trip was packing up and staying at a hotel the last night.

Looking back at this vacation I wonder how we could have allowed our kids to ride in the back on sleeping bags. Mike and I were slowly coming out of our Hippie days, so  things like that did not matter.  Nowadays any trips with children are planned to make sure that they are entertained the entire trip. I can not back out of my driveway without the secure sound of the clicking of my grandchildren’s seatbelts. It may be safer now, but even though it was unsafe the old way, it was a lot more adventuresome.

I thank God that nothing happened to us and that we lived to tell about one of the two camping trips we experienced. But I will never forget this trip, and no one in the world could ever convince me that camping is a vacation. The spirit of fear has finally left me, but I’m still not ready for another camping trip.

 

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