Friday, August 16, 2013

The Black Forest Fire: It's Personal

Until recently, when I said I grew up in Black Forest, I was met with a confused stare and would have to explain that it is a small community northeast of Colorado Springs. And by community, I mean adventure paradise to the girl with perpetually scraped knees and dirt under her fingernails. My parents moved there when I was two years old and have lived in the same house since then.

I like to think of myself as a country girl at heart. Living on dirt roads with our closest neighbor a city block away, we weren't exactly playing basketball with neighborhood kids in the street. Instead, we were catching salamanders and swimming in ponds (some of which had leeches, as I recall.) My sister and I spent countless hours with our best friends, the Whites, exploring the forest. We could seamless cross through barbed-wire fences, making the patchwork of 35-acre farms our personal backyard.

The old barn off Hodgen Road was our playground. Who needs monkey bars when we can literally swing from the rafters on old ropes? It was from that barn that we were chastised for bringing home a bird's nest full of baby birds. We tried to plead that we must care for the baby birds, as every kid knows that a mother bird will reject its babies if they've been touched by humans. Apparently our parents were wiser than old myths, and made us return the birds.

There was also the time we were out searching for leprechauns in the forest after dark and I got stuck in a snowdrift up to my waist. My sister bravely waited with me while Tara went for help. After that, I learned that not only are leprechauns another myth, but also that brand new blue jeans will stain your legs blue if stuck in a snow drift for too long.

And my Black Forest stories would not be complete without Sean White's makeshift zip lines running from tree to tree in his back yard. After getting stuck, frozen in fear at the top of a tree, unable to use the old handlebars resembling my form of transportation to zip down to solid ground, my faithful friends and dear sister left me to go inside for a snack. Thankfully, Mrs. White noticed one missing from the table and made them retrieve me with a ladder.

So when the fire raged through Black Forest in June this summer, it was personal. The Black Forest Fire is the most destructive fire in Colorado's history, destroying over 500 homes and 14,000 acres. Fourteen thousand acres of beautiful, peaceful forest. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

I notice that now when I say I grew up in Black Forest, people give a concerned look and ask if everything is OK. For my parents, it's a hearty yes, a reassurance that while the fire was within a mile of their home, their house and views have been untouched. But after driving a short distance from their house, it is clear everything is not OK. The destruction caused by the fire is stunning, it takes your breath away. There are areas that look like a vast wasteland of black trees resembling telephone poles and charred black ground, the air still smelling of smoke and ash. Entire streets where nothing stands but old brick chimneys.

There are stories after stories. My mom's co-worker, whose home stands alone among dozens burned, has been advised to not open her windows for A YEAR because the air quality is too poor. Or friends who were busy helping their disabled or elderly neighbors evacuate and ended up losing EVERYTHING in the fire.

And yet, hope is not lost. Green grass is already pushing through in areas, a reminder that life can happen after destruction. And neighbors are working together to help sift and sort and cut down trees. Rumor has it that none of the churches in the Forest were destroyed. My parents' church, Black Forest Chapel, is actively working to help the community. Not only has its members been active in restoration efforts, but through its victim recovery fund, it has raised and distributed over $50,000 to community members impacted by the fire. (To read about their work or contribute to the fund, visit

I'm not sure when or how Black Forest will resemble that of my childhood memories, but I'm hopeful in the strength and resolve of its community.

Knowing my photography skills are subpar, I took my dear friends and amazing photographers, Kari Laniel and Hannah Lesley on a field trip of the Black Forest fire. Here is a sample of their photographs.





I'm thankful that my boys will still enjoy the same trees (with new swings!) that I used as a kid, and experience the adventures of Black Forest. There are new adventures and new memories waiting just around the corner.
 (Photos by Kari and Hannah.)




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer: All in

One of the greatest aspects of raising kids is being able to relive so many experiences for the first time by seeing it through my boys' eyes. This summer has been one of the most fun summers since I was a kid, simply because I get to spend every day experiencing a pure, childhood summer. (Well, let's be honest, it's not all pure and fun.)
Watching my boys this summer, I've realized they approach life with gusto. They are pretty much "all in" sort of kids, particularly Charlie.
If there's a swimming pool, he's going to get a running start and jump in.
A rainstorm? Why not strip down naked and run through it like a lunatic.
An ice cream cone? Clearly it tastes better if they end up covered in it from head to toe.
And why bother with training wheels, when Charlie can go further and faster without them on his bike
For these kids, everything can be higher, faster or further. Sure, life in the Zuercher household gets pretty messy. But as my good friend Amber put it, we "embrace the mess."



It's a good reminder for me to live life all in. Life is going to be messy, so I might as well embrace the mess and jump in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Firefighters and a bag of ice

As a mother of two ornery toddler boys, I've come to expect excitement. Today's excitement included the following:
*One hand stuck in the mall elevator (courtesy of Charlie)
*Two frantic moms (not including myself) pushing every button possible on the elevator to release said hand
*One mall security guard who called the paramedics upon hearing Charlie's screams echo throughout the mall (even though Charlie was now released from the evil elevator and starting to calm down quite nicely)
*One police officer
*Five firefighters
*Two paramedics
*One extremely excited Emmett
*A dozen curious onlookers
The end result?
*One bruised hand
*One bag of ice from the food court
*One beer (for me...of course)
The boys also got these, so clearly all worth it.
After leaving the mall and driving by the firetruck and ambulance on our way out, Charlie noted, "Firetrucks are for emergencies. I wonder what they're doing. They must be helping someone that got hurt."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reflections on moving, Part 2

As previously mentioned, moving with toddlers is pure madness. But as I reflect on our new home and the reason we moved, the madness was definitely worth it.
I'm home.
Really home.
I'll be here forever home. (Regardless of what Greg might say.)
Greg and I had been casually checking out the housing market for over a year in the search for our "dream home." Every few months a home would catch our eye and we'd go see it. Since we weren't in a hurry, we knew we could be picky. At one point, we had even put an offer on a short sale. In hindsight, we were very lucky they didn't take our offer. It simply wasn't our home. This is our home.
It was love at first sight. We walked in the front door and Greg was ready to write up an offer. The practical side in me insisted on seeing the rest of the house first. (After all, we did consider an earlier house until we discovered the ceiling in the basement was sagging.) After giddily walking through the home, knowing we had found "our home," we told our realtor we wanted it. Bad. Seeing as we were the seventh people to look at it that day (its first day on the market), she recommended writing a letter to the owners to accompany the offer. In case there were multiple offers, we might as well pull at their heart strings in an effort to get their serious attention.
My years writing proposals, reports and grants for nonprofits served me well. In a succinct note to the owners, I succeeded in making them cry. Here's my note:
We are very excited about the opportunity to purchase your beautiful home. As a family with two small boys, ages two and a half and one, we are looking for a home in which to raise our boys and grow into. Immediately upon walking into your home, we realized this is the place for us. We could see years of of back yard barbeques, family dinners and holiday memories. Not only do we see it as a perfect home for our toddlers—lots of space to play, nooks and crannies to explore and an open floor plan to keep an eye on their mischief—but we also see it as a perfect home for when they are teenagers, with the great media room and basement, large yard, ideal location and schools.
We appreciate and value the work you have put into your home and the care you have shown it. We will take pride in this home, fill it with new family memories and allow it to tell the story of our family.
Thank you for considering our offer.
Now that we are settled in, it's time for the real fun to begin. We get to make this our home, create our memories and begin a new chapter. Oh, and we also get to begin renovation projects. While the 1980's were lovely, it's time to say goodbye to them in my house.
My favorite spot.
View out our front window (on a beautiful winter day).
View out our back window.
 The deer who like to play in our yard.

I'm home.