A Week In Santa Cruz County, CA, On A $132,000 Joint Income

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: an accountant working in government who has a joint income of $132,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on storage bins.
Trigger Warning: This diary mentions death and the California Wildfires.
Occupation: Accountant
Industry: Government
Age: 32
Location: Santa Cruz County, CA
My Salary: $82,000
My Husband's Salary: $50,000
Net Worth: $72,200 (joint savings, husband's Roth IRA, my CalPERS pension, and my 457 Plan minus debt)
Debt: $4,800 (my car loan) and $4,000 (husband's student loan)
My Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $6,800 (my monthly gross amount before taxes, health insurance, SS, pension, 457)
Husband's Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,100 (gross amount)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,600 (for a one-bedroom house in the mountains north of Santa Cruz proper. We were insanely lucky to find a rental with rent control and all utilities and internet included. Our rent has not increased in five years.)
Husband's Student Loans: $50
Car Loan: $115 + $150 (extra into principal)
Savings: $3,000 (house down-payment fund, baby fund, and travel fund)
Husband's Roth IRA: $200
457 Plan: $600
CalPERS Pension: ~$400
Husband's Car Insurance: $60
My Car Insurance: $115
Cell Phone: $100
Birchbox: $14
Allure Beauty Box: $15
Monthly EltaMD Suncreen Subscription: $40
Hulu: $12 (We get Disney+, Netflix, and HBO Max from family)
Renter's Insurance: $21
Therapy: $180
Donations: $50-$75
Annual Expenses:
Amazon Prime: $119
Costco: $120
Post Office Box Rental: $130
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes, there wasn't even a question of whether or not I would attend — it was always a given that I would go to college. My parents are immigrants and had high expectations that I would achieve the American Dream by excelling in school. They pushed me to go into pharmacy and I was admitted to a prestigious PharmD program on the East Coast, but I left after freshman year because I was deeply unhappy. My mom didn't speak to me for a year after that. I attended community college while getting my bearings and then transferred to a state school. I majored in biology but fell into finance by chance and have built a career working in the public sector.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I never received any education about finances from my parents. We grew up with a lot of financial insecurity due to my dad's gambling addiction and general impulsivity with money. My parents were always stressed and fighting about bills and finances. They had to declare bankruptcy when I was in middle school because my dad made some bad business decisions coupled with gambling losses. After that point, my mom took over the finances and went into business for herself. She struggled at first because she did not speak English fluently, but she is the strongest person I know and made her business flourish. We still struggled financially throughout high school and college but my mom kept things stable, even as my dad continued to wreak havoc with his various issues. She is now a homeowner and owns two businesses. I think due to the loss of control she felt from my dad making bad business decisions and doing things like using rent money to gamble, she became very controlling with money. When I started working in high school, she wanted me to give her my paychecks and she wanted to dole out spending money to me. I didn't recognize at the time that this was due to trauma she experienced from my dad and it caused a lot of conflict between us.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first official job was junior year of high school at a burger joint. I wanted to start working so that I could pay for gas for a used car my parents got for me. I lasted two weeks at the job before I was fired in what was probably the nicest firing ever. I was really unsuited for the job because I was a very shy and insecure teen and the job required you to do things like calling orders in a very loud voice to the kitchen and dancing/singing. I was miserable and the owner recognized it. He brought me into his office one day and told me I tried really hard but maybe I should look for a different job and gave me the rest of that week's pay.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, I saw my parents fight about money constantly. My mom would stress about money and paying bills all the time. When we would go grocery shopping, she would only buy things on sale and was acutely aware of every penny spent. We only got clothes from thrift stores or hand me downs from family friends. We recycled, refurbished, and reused a lot. My mom didn't like things to go to waste due to her childhood. I knew I had to get a scholarship for college at an early age so that also weighed on my mind a lot. My parents separated several times throughout middle and high school and my dad never paid child support during those times. My mom moved us into the industrial outskirts of a wealthy town so that we could attend a good school system but the house was in rough shape. During high school, I didn't have a regular bedroom because I wanted my brother and mom to have the bedrooms. I slept in a hallway corridor in the back of the house that we walled off with plywood. We were poor but my mom always made sure we had food on the table. And she never skimped on things like getting me SAT tutors, music lessons, etc.
Do you worry about money now?
It's only been in the last year that I have stopped worrying so much about money. My husband went back to school when we started dating and graduated last year so we are experiencing the DINK (Dual Income No Kids) lifestyle for the first time. We are prioritizing saving money and building up our retirement funds. We feel both incredibly lucky and guilty that we have not been negatively impacted by COVID-19, as we are both in pretty secure jobs that can WFH. However, seeing what has happened to our economy this year has made us feel like we need to squirrel away as much money as we can right now. My financial stress has ramped up in the past few months after seeing how COVID-19 has ravaged my mom's business. She is close to retirement age and was planning to sell her very profitable business as part of her retirement plan. Now things are up in the air and she is devastated and rightfully so. I always knew that I would be helping my parents financially at some point in their retirement but it might be sooner rather than later. Who knows what the future will bring. I am trying my best to prepare, but not catastrophize, through mindfulness and therapy but it's extremely scary right now for so many people.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became fully financially independent around age 23. Although my mom stopped speaking to me for a year when I left the PharmD program, we eventually made amends and she continued to give me financial support for housing throughout the rest of my time in college. I lived with her for a bit after school and helped pay her mortgage. When I turned 26, I moved to California from the east coast and feel that I was able to make such a big life change because I knew that I could fall back on my mom if any financial emergencies came up. Thankfully that never happened but it opened my eyes to how those of us who have a financial security net can take bigger risks in all aspects of life.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My mom helped me with housing costs when I was in college but aside from that I have never received other forms of passive income or inherited income. I also don't foresee an inheritance from my parents and will most likely be supporting them in their retirement.

Day One

1 a.m. — My husband (L.) and I are wide awake and obsessively checking social media/the news because a wildfire has broken out two towns over in the Santa Cruz Mountains where we live. It hasn't rained in months and I'm terrified because we are surrounded by literal tinder here in the redwood forest. There are months worth of sun-baked and crispy ground covering and high grasses, undergrowth, and duff. It's stifling hot because of the heatwave but we can't open any windows. It is raining ash and charred debris. The air outside is thick with smoke and we can see a faint orange glow on the horizon in the direction of the fire. We have had fire scares in the past but this feels different. We start packing our emergency go bag and get our important papers ready in a box. I'm preoccupied and haphazardly throw in some clothing, toiletries, and my collection of jewelry.
2 a.m. — An evacuation notice has been ordered for the town next to us and our town has been put on notice. Our local FB groups are abuzz with updates. We are seeing posts from those in the towns next to us that the fire is in their neighborhood. Someone wrote they drove out with the road in flames. I text and call my friend, S., who lives nearby but no answer. I try my next-door neighbors and no answer. My husband goes over to knock on their door. We see them take off within an hour. Meanwhile, I am calling hotels. There is an evacuation site being set up, but with COVID-19 we don't want to go there. We luck out and find the last hotel room available in Santa Cruz. I book for two nights. Maybe they will get the fire under control by then and we can come back home. L. thinks we should stay home until the morning since our town hasn't been officially evacuated yet. He tries to get a little shut-eye but I am too anxious. I spend the rest of the night checking for news. $325.86
5:30 a.m. — The northwest section of our town is being evacuated. I wake L. up. We start packing up the car with our go bags, important documents, and a few boxes of sentimental items. I look at our collection of art on the walls and decide not to take them. It would be a pain to hang them back up when we come home. When we go outside to the car, I see something confusing on the ground. I pick up a leaf the length of my hand. It is perfectly shaped and whole, yet charcoal black because it has been fully charred. I apply a little pressure and it disintegrates in my hand like burned paper. I look around and see the ground covered with black debris that must have been carried in the wind. I send messages to my manager and to some of my coworkers letting them know what is going on and that I don't know what my work schedule will look like for the day. I also hear back from my friend S. that they are up and starting to pack also.
7 a.m. — We drive two towns over and as we are driving down the main street, we see that the parking lots of every business have been filled with other evacuees. Some of the bigger parking lots have turned into temporary RV parks. The sky is an ominous ashy orange-brown. It feels surreal and I feel a little removed from the situation. I take a few pictures and we pull into the Starbucks drive-through to get some much-needed caffeine and breakfast sandwiches. I call the hotel and get through to someone at the front desk. She says she can't guarantee early check-in but she will try. She says to stop by around noon to see if any rooms are available. My husband and I try to figure out where we can go to pass the time. We are both exhausted and nothing is open due to COVID-19. We decide to head to the Westcliff area of Santa Cruz to park and wait until we can check-in. Hopefully, the air is a little less smoky next to the ocean. $19.80
11 a.m. — We have been parked off of Westcliff Drive for a few hours. It's raining ash even here but it feels soothing to look out at the ocean. L. calls his family to give them updates. I call my mom and let her know. She is freaked out but I let her know we are safe. I feel bad for making her panic. We feel restless and decide to head over to downtown Santa Cruz to see if the bookstore is open. Normally I would feel uneasy due to COVID-19 but I joke with L. that we can only worry about one crisis at a time. We take our time halfheartedly browsing and linger in our favorite section: sci-fi and fantasy. I just finished reading the Winternight Trilogy and have been on the lookout for something similar but I can't really focus. I follow my husband down the aisles and while we aren't talking much, we give lots of reassuring hand squeezes and little side hugs. He gets me a cute mini notebook to lift my mood.
12 p.m. — We are able to check-in early but are charged a $50 fee. We decide to use their valet garage vs. street parking ($15 per night). Our car is full of our stuff and Santa Cruz has known issues with car break-ins. Our hotel room is comfy. L. jokes that this is all worth it for the air conditioning. I look on FB for more news and start to feel sick thinking about all the things we left behind. I tell L. that I'm sad we left our Christmas ornaments behind and he says he packed them! I tell him that I regret not taking more things and ask if we should make a return trip to get more stuff while we still have the chance. He says that it doesn't seem like a good idea. I don't push it since he seems really anxious at the thought of going back. $80
2 p.m. — I call our renter's insurance and find out we have Loss of Use, which will reimburse us for costs related to evacuation. I feel so relieved. We decide to order some pizza to last us a few days and get a large pepperoni pie, a large Hawaiian pie, and wings. While we wait for delivery, I text with a friend, N., who also lives in the mountains and offer our hotel room if she can't find a place to go. I realize right away that I forgot to ask L. if he's okay with it first but he agrees that even though COVID-19 is still a thing, it was right to offer to help our friend. Food arrives but I don't really enjoy it, both because of the situation but also the pizza is legitimately bad! L. and I cuddle in bed while doing our thing for a while. I can't stop obsessively checking the news and FB groups. $112.94
8 p.m. — We eat some pizza and wings for dinner while watching an episode of The Office. I'm vacillating between joking around and feeling okay to getting sick to my stomach with worry. I hear back from my friend N. that she was able to find a hotel room and won't need to stay with us. She asks if we would feel comfortable meeting up tomorrow to catch up and we make plans to go for a socially distanced walk together. L. and I try to keep things light as we get ready for bed and we joke around. I motivate myself to do my p.m. skincare routine (wash face with LRP, apply Erno Laszlo's Hydraphel Skin Supplement to damp skin, spritz Avene Thermal Water, layer of Clinique's DDML+, layer of Clinique's 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator, finish with Finacea Azelaic Acid). L. and I cuddle in bed while I check FB and see that the rest of our town was just issued an evacuation order. I feel a jolt of fear. I don't think I'll be able to sleep at all tonight.
Daily Total: $538.60

Day Two

5 a.m. — I've been tossing and turning all night. I can't sleep so I go into the bathroom to check the news. So many homes already burned and the fire has burned through Big Basin State Park. I'm heartbroken. I'm not a big FB user but have been glued to the local FB groups for news. I feel grateful to have a place to feel connected to my community. In the midst of all this craziness, I have been amazed at the outpouring of support that I've been seeing. Assistance groups have already sprung up connecting those in need of food, housing, transportation to those in the community who can help. A giant Google spreadsheet with hundreds of community members who have help to offer is already circulating. I'm reminded of the Mister Rogers quote, "When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
8 a.m. — L. is up and gets us some free coffee and muffins from the lobby. I respond to some supportive texts and messages that I got from coworkers and feel thankful to work with such great people. Since we ended up taking the day off yesterday to deal with the evacuation, we are both determined to get some work done today. I never anticipated how emotionally taxing an evacuation could be, even though our home is okay and still miles from the fire perimeter.
11 a.m. — Well, work has been a no go. Neither of us can get our minds quiet and focused enough to care about work. I get a message from S. that she and her husband returned home and are packing up more stuff. She said the roads are open to our town but officials will be blockading all entry points in an hour or two. I jump out of bed and beg L. to go back to pack more stuff. I tell him the fire is a few miles away from our home and this will be our last chance. He hesitates a few seconds and says okay. We agree to take no longer than 15-20 minutes to grab more belongings. Adrenaline rushes through my body as we hurry to get our car. I can't tell if this is a mistake but my gut says it's the right thing to do.
11:30 a.m. — The drive back into the mountains is filled with such a heavy silence. Ash is raining down. The sky looks sick. Our beautiful mountains look terrifying to me for the first time. The roads are empty on the way back except for two other cars heading in the same direction. L. is quiet and I can tell he is scared. I am too. We pull into our tiny little town and see the bakery owner on top of the bakery roof hosing it down. Firetrucks and police are everywhere. They aren't stopping us so that makes me feel a little bit better, and that we aren't in immediate danger. We pull onto our street and see that a neighbor has spray-painted a big piece of ply-board with the message, "Looters will be shot on-site" and I take a picture. We joke grimly about good ole mountain people as we head up our ridge.
11:35 a.m. — We pull into our driveway and I run inside to start throwing things into boxes while L. makes room in our car. I'm grabbing any and all containers (laundry baskets, crates, suitcases) and throwing the contents on the floor so that we can use them to pack. L. rushes in and we pack all our clothes, the artwork on the walls, expensive electronics, the rest of our sentimental objects and he loads them into the car. We finish in about 20 minutes. I take one more look at our beloved home as we head out and it looks like someone came and ransacked the place. L. jokes that at least looters will be uninterested since it already looks like we were robbed. We leave the door unlocked for the firefighters and leave. As we pass through the redwoods, I feel like I want to cry but I don't feel anything at the same time.
2 p.m. — We are back at our hotel and the adrenaline is leaving our bodies. L. says he is happy we went back and I agree. I feel more at ease now that we have everything we might have regretted leaving behind. L. has been so strong and such a trooper through everything so far but I can tell how anxious he is by how much he is cleaning and organizing. Normally he hates cleaning and organizing. We make jokes with each other and try to keep each other in good humor and I am thankful for him. He asks if I've let my brother and other friends know what is happening and I say no. L. reminds me that it's okay to want support and that it isn't being a burden. I know I have baggage about stuff like this and text my brother and a good friend. We eat some leftover pizza for lunch and try to get back to work.
5 p.m. — Work has been a complete bust. I try really hard to focus but honestly, I can't give a shit. I'm stressed because there is a huge deadline coming up to close the fiscal year. L. and I eat more pizza, but I can only stomach a little bit. I can't tell if it was from stress or because the pizza is so gross. Normally I think even bad pizza is pretty edible so it must be the stress. It looks too smoky outside to do the socially distanced walk with our friend so we arrange to meet in our hotel lobby since there are lots of seating areas that are spaced far apart.
6 p.m. — N. walks over from her hotel a few blocks away and we hug even though we know we shouldn't because I think we all needed it. She seems shaken and we commiserate together. I let her know about the Loss of Use on her renter's insurance since her hotel bill is so outrageous (thank you, Santa Cruz). Her roommate works for CalFire and she tells us that their home will probably be lost due to its location on one of the ridges. We learn that Santa Cruz hasn't had a fire like this in decades and as a result, we have several feet of thick forest duff that has built up and is fueling the fires. In some areas, it is over eight feet deep. So much of our mountains are completely inaccessible to firefighters due to the terrain. And we can't get air support due to the smoke. On top of all that, CalFire is stretched so thin due to all the other fires raging throughout California that they have only been able to send 1/4 of the necessary support.
9 p.m. — L. and I cuddle in bed. We decide to stop looking at the news and social media at least two hours before bed to help unwind. We talk about how grateful we are to have the financial means to stay at a hotel and to get through an extended evacuation period, and to have renter's insurance. We look up places we can volunteer and find that the evacuation shelters need help sorting donations and we decide to go the next weekend. Officials are saying it could be weeks that we are evacuated so we try to figure out what that will look like logistically. Like kismet, L. gets a call from his friend who works at a hotel near San Jose. He offers us a highly discounted rate for the next two weeks. When L. gets off the phone, he is deeply touched. It has been amazing to have friends, coworkers, and family reach out to us. Every little bit helped. Every smiley face text or a "How are you holding up?" buoyed our spirits in a way we never expected.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6 a.m. — I'm able to get a bit of sleep and feeling a little less zombie-like. I think the no news/social media rule for two hours before bed really helped. We get some coffee and muffins from the lobby and turn on the daily 6 a.m. CalFire briefing. We learn that the CZU Lightning Complex Fire has burned more than 63,000 acres or roughly 98 square miles and containment is only at 5%. My heart drops when we looked at the fire map and see that the fire perimeter is now less than 1.5 miles from our home. During the briefing, they talk about looters coming into the evacuated areas and I'm reminded of the dark side of humanity. There are now over 560 fires in California, burning over 770,000 acres. We are on fire and I feel a sudden surge of claustrophobia knowing that there are at least four other fires, aside from the CZU Fire within an hour of Santa Cruz.
9 a.m. — L. and I go over plans for the day since we will be leaving our hotel to go to the one that L.'s friend works at. We book an initial 10-day stay and decide to go from there. Thankfully it's the start of our weekend so we will have a couple of days to get settled and to get some rest without having to worry about work. After seeing a couple of posts on FB about evacuees' cars getting broken into (one person had their birth certificate stolen) we decide to rent a storage unit for peace of mind.
11 a.m. — We eat the rest of our pizza for lunch and check out of the hotel. It's still raining down ash and the skies today are a mottled grey. We get some gas and save the receipt for our claim. As we drive up the highway to San Jose, we can see flumes of smoke from the mountains. $29.83
12 p.m. — We get to San Jose and head to a storage facility I find on Yelp. The lady who helps me is very caring and goes out of her way to get us a discount since we are evacuees. Again, I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for community and feel that my spirits have been lifted a bit. I'm reminded time and time again that community is so important. Kindness can be everything. We sign a contract for one month for their smallest unit. Before moving our boxes and bags into the unit, we decide to get some plastic storage containers from Target in case there are any rodents or bugs. $109.28
12:45 p.m. — We head to Target and purchase four large storage containers with locking lids. We also get some Advil, shampoo, conditioner, and some Gatorade. We head back to the storage unit and spend about an hour unloading and organizing everything. We decide to come back another day to sort through our clothes and replenish our go bag. We head to our next hotel and look forward to not having to bounce around for the next 10 days. $103.23
2 p.m. — We are checked into our hotel and are a little dumbfounded to be at a literal resort. We knew his friend worked at a very high-end hotel, but we didn't realize how nice. For $100/night + tax ($1,110.70 total), his friend booked us one of their suites with two balconies, a fireplace, and a sitting area. Again, life feels so surreal and weird. And again, I feel a conflicting sense of extreme gratitude and guilt that we are doing okay when so many people are suffering. L. and I are starving so we order some banh mi sandwiches, chips, and a quinoa salad ($51.11) from a place we find on Yelp. Everything is delicious and it's a nice break from all the pizza we have been eating. $1,161.81
6 p.m. — We head to Trader Joe's to get some prepared meals and snacks since our hotel room doesn't have a microwave. We purchase some of their ready-made salads (Southwest Salad, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad, Curry Chicken Salad, and Peanut Udon Noodle Salad), tortilla chips, a few types of dips, a bag of butter lettuce, some peaches, sliced cheese, pastrami, granola bars, mustard, and a loaf of rye bread. $89.82
9 p.m. — In bed early and trying not to check social media but we are anxious as the fire draws closer to our home. Our area has been put on a Red Flag warning for high winds and another potential dry lightning storm. We are reading posts from locals who "are in the know" that CalFire has retreated to set up fire lines further away. It seems like it is just our volunteer firefighters who have stayed to save our town. And there are small groups of men who have stayed behind to save their streets. I am both frustrated at them for defying the evacuation order and putting themselves (and potential rescue groups) in danger, and also in awe of their heroism. The initial avalanche of goodwill on the community pages is giving way to anger and grief as we all start to process what has happened. People are rightfully upset to feel their homes and community have been abandoned by CalFire, but I also understand that CalFire has limited resources in a dangerous forested area and are doing triage.
Daily Total: $1,493.97

Day Four

6 a.m. — We wake up early to get some coffee and croissants from across the street and to watch the 6 a.m. CalFire briefing. The CZU Fire is now at 71,000 acres and at least 129 homes have been lost, although they expect this number to be much higher since they haven't been able to get into the burned areas to do inspections. We are still in the Red Flag warning. The second and third largest fires in California history are also concurrently burning about an hour away. The SCU Lightning Complex Fire in the East Bay is at a horrific 343,965 acres and the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in Napa/Sonoma is at 341,253 acres. I feel despondent. $15.50
12 p.m. — I have been in bed all morning, endlessly scrolling through the news and social media for any and all updates. I know it's not good for my mental health but I can't stop. This constant state of unknowing is relentless. I feel like I am starting to unravel after being stoic for the past few days. I feel myself crumbling a little bit inside as the stress eats away at me. L. is playing a video game to unwind and we are having alone time together, which has been nice. We can't even go outside because it is so smoky. Officials are saying the smoke and ash are toxic and contain burnt plastics, chemicals, and who knows what else. We eat some of the pre-made salads from Trader Joe's.
1 p.m. — My mom calls me to ask me to take care of some bill-related stuff for her, and I fall apart. I know she didn't mean anything by it and she has been supportive throughout the evacuation, but I feel so sad and frustrated that she is adding more to my plate. This is also related to some baggage I have due to being parentified when I was younger and having resentment about it. I'm also sad that my dad didn't text or call me once to find out how I was doing when he knew what was going on. This is standard for him so I shouldn't have been surprised but it always feels devastating when he shows how little he cares. In the six years I have lived in California, he has called me once. And that was to ask how to reset his Wi-Fi. All other times, I have been the one to call him.
1:15 p.m. — I'm crying for the first time since all this started and L. comes over to comfort me right away. I'm inconsolable and feel really alone for some reason. I tell him I'm sad and feel alone and he tries to make me feel better by reminding me that I have him and his family. And that his family is now my family. I know he means well but it rubs me the wrong way. I love his dad, but as awesome as he is a father-in-law, it doesn't take away the grief I feel about my own absent one. I must have snapped at him when I asked him to please not say that to me anymore because L. withdraws and gets a little sullen. He is also stretched thin emotionally and neither of us has our normal level of patience and understanding. It turns into a fight and we retreat in frustration.
2 p.m. — I call my best friend and she lets me sob as I tell her how sad I am about my dad and mom. That my dad has never been there for me. And that even though my mom is trying her best, a lot of her support is more focused on her own feelings and I end up having to console her or make her feel better. She comforts me and tells me how sorry she is that I am dealing with this. She is really the best and I am so thankful to have her in my life. I text my therapist afterward and ask if we can set up an emergency remote therapy session tomorrow. Our normal schedule is every other week but I am feeling like I need one sooner.
3 p.m. — I go back to the hotel room and L. and I say "I love you" to each other and apologize for fighting. Things still feel a little tense and strained so I take a bath to unwind and give him some space.
5 p.m. — We try to talk some more about the fight but we are both feeling raw and don't have the emotional bandwidth for it. Things start to feel a little heated so L. asks if we can come back to this tomorrow. I think since we are normally so in-tune with each other, when we aren't aligned and experiencing conflict, it feels extra jarring and can take us a little bit of time to get over it. We decide to table the discussion and eat some of the premade salads and dip and chips for dinner.
8 p.m. — We put on Thor Ragnarok and relax in bed. I don't feel motivated to do my skincare routine tonight so I skip it.
Daily Total: $15.50

Day Five

6 a.m. — We get up early to watch the CalFire briefing. We are horrified to learn of the first CZU Fire casualty. An elderly man who lived in a remote area that was overtaken by the fire on the first night. The fire reached his street before an evacuation could be sounded. He perished while trying to escape in his car and was found near his vehicle when it got stuck. I don't even know how to process the news of this tragedy. The fire is now at 78,000 acres, approximately 122 square miles. Around 77,000 people are currently evacuated from the Santa Cruz Mountains. We get some good news at the end! The Red Flag Warning has been lifted. The storm system expected to bring high winds and the dry lightning moved further east than expected. It is a weather miracle. Maybe CalFire can redirect efforts to our town since conditions won't be so dangerous. I'm feeling hopeful for the first time.
11 a.m. — We are both trying our hardest to work but our minds are not cooperating. I'm feeling absolutely worn down emotionally and mentally. And things still feel a little strained in our relationship. Ahh, things are the worst. My therapist gets back to me and we set up an appointment for the next day. I also get a call from the adjuster and she is really helpful and patient as she explains how Loss of Use works. We will get reimbursed for food delivery, lodging, and gas for up to 20% of our policy. Our rental unit will also be reimbursed but grocery store purchases will not be reimbursed. I email her the receipts we have and tell her I will email her on a weekly basis for however long this evacuation lasts. L. and I discuss the possibility of the evacuation lasting weeks. Our Loss of Use policy is generous but will not last us more than two weeks.
12 p.m. — We eat some sandwiches from the bread, pastrami, and cheese we got from Trader Joe's for lunch. I see a post on a FB group about an Airbnb program that matches evacuees with hosts who are willing to offer free stays. L. puts in an application.
3 p.m. — My coworker who was also evacuated calls me and we vent about life and work. It feels good to talk to someone who is going through the same thing and to let off some steam.
6 p.m. — Since I picked the last time we ordered food, L. gets to pick dinner tonight. We decide to try to only order delivery every other day to save money since we don't know how long this evacuation will last. He chooses Jamaican food and we order a jerk chicken platter with plantains, rice and beans, and grilled veggies, and an oxtail stew platter. We also order some cornbread and macaroni and cheese on the side. Everything tastes amazing. $61.05
7 p.m. — We decide to go for a walk since the smoke has subsided in our area a bit. And we haven't really left our hotel room in a while which has not been doing us any good. L. thinks we need to pay better attention to our mental health during this and that we need to manage our stress levels better. I agree and we come up with some ways to be proactive so that we can stay on top of the stress. It feels good to stretch my legs and to feel connected with L. again. We have a good time exploring the area and talking about non-fire related things. We apologize again for fighting and L. reminds me that I need to give him the opportunity to learn how to give me what I need because sometimes he just doesn't know. I apologize for snapping at him when he was just trying to comfort me. We chalk it up to the stress and agree that it can be a growing experience for us.
9 p.m. — We stop for some gelato and head back to the hotel. It is weird for our heads to see so much carefree laughter around us as people dine and have fun when just on the other side of the mountains, there are over 77,000 people who have evacuated. It makes me think about refugees who have experienced 1,000 times more hardship and heartbreak — people who have lost not just their homes but their livelihoods, their families, and in some cases their entire countries and cultures and ways of living. Something about the relentless constant stress, the unknowing, the inability to plan for the future has put a stopper on my brain. I feel caught in quicksand. $5.35
Daily Total: $66.40

Day Six

6 a.m. — Some good news at the CalFire briefing! They have made progress on the fire and it is now 17% contained and at 78,869 acres. Officials had been worried that with the Red Flag Warning, Santa Cruz proper could have been threatened but with the storm system missing us, we are now in the best-case scenario. F. and I are truly hopeful that our home and the rest of our town can be saved. The firefighters have held the line in our town and kept the fire from progressing to the western side where we live.
10 a.m. — I take a break from work for therapy and we talk about the evacuation and the fight I had with L. She is awesome and always walks the perfect line between helping me call out things I need to work on and offering lots of warmth and encouragement. She reminds me that this is a crazy stressful situation and that we have handled it pretty well for the most part. She reminds me to take credit for the things I did well and to acknowledge the positives since I have trouble doing so. We talk about the fight and how L. wanted to help me solve my pain while I wanted him to listen. Neither is wrong, just different. We talk about how I need to remember that I have to ask for help and support when I need it and that I can't expect anyone to read my mind.
12 p.m. — We are running low on food so we scrounge through what is left from our last Trader Joe's shop and cobble a meal together. L. gets a notification that we were approved for the Airbnb program and we log in to see if any hosts offering free stays are still available. Thankfully, we find a stay in San Jose for the week after our hotel stay ends, and then a week in San Francisco afterward. We message the hosts and wait for them to confirm. Unfortunately, there are none available in Santa Cruz, but we feel so grateful that these hosts are donating their rentals and foregoing rent income to help evacuees. I message S. and N. to make sure they know about this program and to check in with them.
5 p.m. — After work, we decide to go grocery shopping to stock up on more premade meals. We go to Whole Foods first and grab some granola, yogurt, bananas, protein bars, and almond milk ($29.47). Next up is Trader Joe's where we get some more premade salads, tortilla chips, buffalo chicken dip, queso, salsa, and mochi ($52.77). We head back to our room to eat dinner. Afterward, we decide to go on a little walk. $82.24
7 p.m. — After we get back from our walk, I try to keep busy so that I don't end up obsessively checking for news updates. I try to read a book I brought, The North Water by Ian McGuire, but my brain is not having it. I go on FB briefly and see that our local volunteer firefighters are asking for donations to purchase equipment. L. and I decide to donate $100. It's been hard to see all the GoFundMe's of those who lost their homes and not donate, but L. is right that we might be evacuated for weeks, possibly longer, and that we need to see where we land financially first. And that's if we can go back to a home. We agree after this is all over to make a sizeable ongoing donation to our local fire station and to our community for the rest of the year.
10 p.m. — I get back to my nighttime skincare routine and cuddle with L. before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $82.24

Day Seven

7 a.m. — We oversleep and miss the CalFire briefing but plan to watch the one tonight. L. walks over to the cafe next door for a coffee for himself and a croissant for me. He hasn't been sleeping well and has a headache this morning. We are processing things and going through what resembles the grief cycle at different times. He is feeling really anxious, sad, angry, and overwhelmed today and going through a lot of the hard feelings I had a couple of days ago, while I am back to feeling more stoic and okay. I try to give him supportive words and love, but also space because I know he usually likes to have room to decompress and process his emotions. $11.74
10 a.m. — L. is catching up with his friend who works at the hotel in the lobby, so I take a little break from work to scroll through Reddit. It's the first time that I've felt the desire to look at "fun" stuff and I take it as a good sign. I look at r/Eyebleach and r/Aww and feel little jolts of happiness seeing all the cute animal antics and pictures. I feel hungry so decide to have an early lunch of granola, banana, and yogurt, and chips and queso.
12 p.m. — I decide to work a half-day today and use some of my accumulated personal time to take myself on a "date" and explore a new area. I drive to a cute downtown area and walk around window-shopping and getting some much-needed sunshine. The smoke isn't too bad today since the wind is blowing in the opposite direction and I can even see some blue skies. I see a comic book shop and go in to look for some Marvel omnibuses for L. He had mentioned wanting to read Civil War when we were at the bookstore in Santa Cruz. I love getting him gifts and end up getting him Civil War, Civil War II, Infinity Gauntlet, and one that is an X-Men x Avengers crossover. $131.52
3 p.m. — L. is thrilled for his new comics and I think it lifts his mood a little bit. I think it's cute how excited he gets about his comic books and video games. I like when adults still have that spark of childlike wonder and unbridled giddiness about stuff. We talk some more about how he is feeling and he is surprised at how sad he feels. He was never in love with Santa Cruz and never felt truly connected with the area. After experiencing the fear of losing our home and seeing the destruction to the forest and our community, he is feeling the deep connection for the first time. And he feels so awful for everyone who lost their homes. I think since L. tends to compartmentalize his emotions, he hasn't really been dealing with his feelings until now. I remind him that it's a good sign he is feeling these things and it means he is processing everything.
5 p.m. — I ask L. what comfort food he is craving and he says a Korean-style ramen with spam, sausage, tofu, and kimchi called Budae Jiggae (Army Stew). We look up the menu to our usual place and we order Budae Jiggae, spicy kalguksu (Korean knife-cut noodles in a spicy clam broth), spicy sauteed squid, and an order of seafood pancakes. We pick up our order and are shocked at how much banchan (side dishes) we got! At least eight different banchan, including two types of kimchi! $91.92
7 p.m. — L. is excited about his comics and on a Marvel kick so we decide to re-watch Civil War. Escapism is the best. Afterward, he starts reading the Infinity Gauntlet omnibus and I try to stop the static in my brain long enough so that I can read my book, North Water. It crosses my mind that 2020 has been scarier than the horror book I am holding in my hand. A coworker had sent me a meme a few days ago that said, "Whoever started Jumanji at the beginning of 2020, please finish it quickly" so yeah... whoever opened the game, hurry your ass up!
Daily Total: $235.18
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