Mom column: Trying to clear out heads amid all these smoke-tainted skies

The red sun, orange skies and sepia atmosphere around the Valley this week prompted my boys to discuss the science of it all (in between watching the NBA playoffs, of course.)

My husband, the engineer, had a scientifically-based, if jargon-laced answer. Mom did not. “Apocalypse Now” did not seem the appropriate response from a grown-up.

My high school sophomore came up with the most user-friendly explanation: How ash and smoke from all the fires around the state, and Oregon and Washington, go up and are driven by winds. If the smoke is thick enough, the sun’s light is scattered before it reaches the ground, blocking light. The smoke also scatters blue light from the sun, allowing only yellow, orange or red light to reach the surface. (His source: the Bay Area Air District’s Twitter feed.)

In between reaching for my inhaler and cranking up the air filter, I was happy to solve the mystery. Now someone tell me if doing laundry in a smoky garage would be a futile exercise?

I flashback almost 20 years ago when we signed escrow papers for our home. We laughed when we signed off that yes, we’ve been told about the danger of earthquakes, flash floods, regular floods and wildfires.

“They forgot locusts,” I joked. Today, of course, I’m just praying I wasn’t prophetic.

Smoky or drenched, this is home. Before fire and smoke descended on us, I was going to write about Sept. 17 being Citizenship Day. My children get regular lectures on the value, importance, privileges and responsibilities of being an American citizen. My newly minted 18-year-old is excited to vote in his first election this November. (He may be a tad more excited to get to vote at Staples Center, too.)

The Los Angeles County Library system (of which West Covina, La Verne and some local libraries are part) will offer “Citizenship Resources” on YouTube on Thursday, Sept. 17. It will feature videos to help those pursuing U.S. citizenship, including tours of its citizenship page and the county’s Path2Citizenship site, as well as a game-style prep for the naturalization exam.

One story my kids haven’t heard was how their great-grandmother Honorata passed her citizenship test. The interviewer asked her to define “rule of law.” Flummoxed, but unfazed, she replied, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know the branches of government.”

And she placidly rattled off “legislative, executive and judicial.” She passed. She was in her 80s then.

I’m also a big fan of Azusa City Library’s “Inspired Citizenship” program, which has transitioned to Zoom. Offered in English and Spanish, the free classes for U.S. residents helps them pass the citizenship test and improve their English-speaking skills as well. Their annual graduation ceremony is always an inspiring picture. There are stories of how students come to classes after work (sometimes after working two jobs) and how the volunteers and staff who help them are themselves transformed by the dedication and grit they witness. This is home. Do we work as hard as them to make it one we can be proud of?

For more information about “Inspired Citizenship” at Azusa City Library, call (626) 812-5273. For more information about Los Angeles County Library offerings, search “LACountyLibrary” on YouTube or visit

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