We sold our house in Woodland Hills, California in
January 2007, moved into a teeny-tiny rental (with my dad living in the
laundry room) in February and today we are packing up the stuff we’ve
been using for the last few months and moving to 37 acres outside of
“We” is me, Denise 43, Tom 54, our son, Henry 10, and my extremely colorful jazz musician father. “We” also includes my sister Lisa, my brother-in-law Chris, their two girls Quinn 11, Phoebe 6, their two dogs Griffin (Airedale/German Shepherd “blend”) and Winifred (West Highland Terrier) our three cats: Emmett Richard, Scarlett Kathryne and Alvin Daniel and our three dogs: Vivian Irene (Rottweiler) Luther Zachariah (Basset Hound) and Deli Anne (Blue-Tick Coon Hound – my father bought her off an internet rescue site). We’re like the Osmonds, but we drink and we’re Catholic.
We, meaning in this case just Tom and I, have spent the last ten years painstakingly fixing up our house and making it a home. We have scrimped and saved and together put hardwood on the ceiling while Henry hung from the scaffolding that was our living room furniture for way too long. Next we nailed down hardwood throughout the house after working well in to the wee hours - to the dismay of our neighbors Mary and John. We hand-painted the tiles around the fireplace--actually we invited our friends over for margaritas and “let” them paint tiles, too. We planted over a hundred rose bushes and lots of trees. The end result was an oasis that we loved. But it just became too expensive to maintain our water bill in the summer for just two months was $1700.00.
I used to work in advertising as a copywriter and made good money. When I had Henry I was working freelance at Ogilvy & Mather on Barbie™. Their policy was for me to bring Henry to work with me every day. It was especially stressful when I had a deadline and he needed a bottle and a diaper change, but it worked pretty well. Henry’s first Halloween, he trick-or-treated down the halls in his Abraham Lincoln costume. If we’d stayed, Henry would have been vested by second grade.
From there I moved on to an all woman agency, Wiley & Associates in Westlake Village. Well ok, we did have one guy, Pericles. We primarily did women’s products like Orly ™ nail polish, children’s clothes like Healthtex™, and Strouds™. Sadly, Wiley closed. It was more than the end of a job; it was the end of a way of life. Caryn Wiley’s philosophy was: If you had to work from home because your child was sick or you had to come in late because there was a school assembly then you had to stay home or come in late. It was simple at Wiley, family came first. I never would have left Wiley, but c’est la vie. Now, I had to take my portfolio and look for work. Big jobs with big money meant a lot of hours proving myself again. The “if you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday” mentality. Armed with my bright yellow portfolio, I interviewed in Long Beach for a job on Mercedes™. They were interested in me because I had car experience. In fact, they were offering me more money than I had ever made. Long Beach. The very idea meant a two-hour commute each way. Now, they weren’t unreasonable, they said I could be in at 10:00 AM. But that would mean I’d have to leave three-year old, Henry, at daycare and pay someone to pick him up. Let’s face it, if they let you come in at 10:00 AM they don’t want you to leave at 5:00 PM, so that would mean at least 8:00 PM before I’d be home. In advertising, you don’t want to pick up and move for just any job because the last hired is always the first fired if there’s a problem with the client. I was in the middle of figuring out that I could do it for a year and bank a lot of cash, but then I realized I’d be missing all of age three. You can’t get age three back, no matter how much money you put in the bank. Anyway, on the way home from the interview I heard a radio commercial. Apparently, through the University of Phoenix you could become a teacher in less than a year. My mother was a teacher. I swore I’d never be a teacher. A week later I was in the program. Now, no one becomes a teacher for the money, but it was a great way to earn a living and be a mom. Much to my surprise I loved it. Within a year I was teaching 5th grade at Woodland Hills Elementary in room 19.
While teaching I learned a great deal. I learned that teaching
is only a fraction of the job. I learned that teachers have bladders
like balloons because you can only go to the bathroom at recess and
lunch. I learned that educational bureaucracy can be crippling and I
finally mastered 5th grade math.
In my class, students learned I was not an-apple-kind-of-teacher, but a coffee-kind-of-teacher. They learned ladies always reapply their lipstick, they learned I had no problem using their middle name against them; they learned to recite: “WE ARE FIFTH GRADERS, BUT YOU ARE THE QUEEN OF THE CLASS”, and most importantly they learned that they should always find out the “why” of something because it is the most critical step on the way to thinking for yourself.
In my class, I combined my knowledge of film and history to make historical films with my students. One year we did “The Debate for Independence”. In other years we did “The Battle of Gettysburg”, “The Search for the Northwest Passage” (Lewis & Clark) and most ambitiously the musical “1776”. The kids ate it up, and learned to their surprise to love history along with me. It was on the set shooting scenes with George Washington and his horse that one of the mothers said, “It’s too bad you can’t do this with more kids.” BAMM, an idea was born. Tom and I loved making the costumes, the sets and teaching the kids.Tom is an amazing artist, went to Art Center in Pasadena and can make absolutely anything I can dream up. We loved the idea of getting them excited about something they once thought was soooo boring. So we decided to start a history camp.
Telling people you want to start a history camp is a little strange. First, they look at you with wide Bambi-like eyes. They pause for a moment expecting that there must be something they’ve missed. “A history camp?” They query very slowly as if you’re stupid. “Hmmm.” Now grasping for something polite to say because they realize you’re serious, they stammer unconvincingly, “That sounds really ah, fun.” Next, they suggest in some way you can spice it up like adding a gymnastics component with a trampoline. I wonder what they’re thinking, “The Leaping Loyalists”? How exactly would that work?
The funny thing is that kids do think it sounds like fun. In my class, all the kids wanted to come. We’d gone to a spectacular place called Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, California where they do Revolutionary War Adventures as well as overnights and have the best apple pies around.
(Riley's Farm Pictured)
The kids couldn’t get enough of either – the adventure or the
apple pie, not necessarily in that order. They were fascinated and
enchanted. They loved being yelled at to get in line and marching
around with sticks for muskets.
They’re a different generation. They’re children of the Internet and hand-helds. They don’t imagine. They don’t pretend. I found this out while working on Barbie™. Girls were outgrowing Barbie™ at age three. In years past, girls would play out their problems and childhood fantasies until they were almost eleven or twelve. Now, they play realistic computer games on Playstation™ or Wii™. They don’t camp in the wilderness; they camp in campers with satellite hook-ups. They’re bored. One of my students asked me why Lewis & Clark didn’t just drive to Oregon. Excuse me? Drive? I was shocked, but after I thought about it I realized they don’t watch “Bonanza”, “Little House On the Prairie” or “Daniel Boone”. They’ve never seen “The Waltons”. They go straight from Pokemon™ and “Dora the Explorer” to programming that revolves around the mall and teenage angst.
After teaching my students about the struggles and sacrifices that the colonists, Lewis & Clark and the pioneers went through, I asked them to write an essay on which era they would want to live in “Then” or “Now” and why. Almost exclusively they picked the past. I was taken aback. I asked them why they would want to give up all their comforts, their games, their phones etc,. They all responded in a similar way. They felt that families worked together, sang songs together and spent more time together than they could imagine. They were stunned at the sense of community shown by activities like barn raisings and square dances. They couldn’t believe neighbors helped each other bring in the harvest etc. They were amazed at how many skills people had and how much they knew, like how to build a house or make gunpowder, candles, bullets, butter, clothes and furniture. I heard many kids remark that their parents could barely hang a picture, worked late and didn’t have time to do anything with them. It was observed by one of my students that as a people we might know so much more, but as individuals our knowledge is much less in many ways. Quite an insight for a 5th grader; it’s moments like that when you feel you’ve actually taught something.
Now, do I believe they’d really wanted to be transferred back before indoor plumbing? No, but do I think they’d enjoy some time in the country learning what life was like? Having campfires where characters stumble in from the darkness and tell their tales? No, I think they’d love it. And would they then like to act in a movie about it?
Yes, I do think they’d love it and I think they’d learn more doing it than they would from some textbook filled with battles and dates. Still, there are more than a handful of people who think Tom and I have completely come unwrapped.
Now that we had the idea, we had to give it an identity. All our friends and relatives submitted names, but none seemed to hit all the aspects: history, fun, camping, movie-making. At last, Henry came up with the name: Fort Flashback.
Then began the darkest period of my life, I had to write a business plan. I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, but I did and I learned a great deal. Now, that’s not to say the plan will ever really be done as I learned you must constantly revise and adjust because what really ever goes according to plan? Anyone who has children knows the answer to that, but as I was saying, we were now on our way, at least figuratively.
Looking back I have a bit of advice from the future-12/2008 : Like most stories, you can just jump in and see what we're doing now, you'll figure it out or you can go back and see the story unfold in real time. Thanks for stopping by,