Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Upstanding Citizen

Look who has figured out how to pull herself up to standing.

She's pretty pleased with herself.

Alice is also pleased to have found a whole new way to play with her sister.

Things are getting fun around here!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three Years

We celebrated Alice's third birthday last Friday.

Grammy and Grampy came in from Indiana for the weekend, and on the morning of the big day, those of us who didn't have to go to work (everyone but Matt) headed down to Santa Cruz to check out the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

It was a really neat place, with all sorts of underwater creatures to see...

...and touch.

And it was located on a beautiful spot on the coast. 

We shared a lunch picnic outside.

And then made our way to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk for some good old fashioned rides.

[I'm really hoping that this license plate isn't available when Alice turns 16.]

A quick snooze in the car, and the birthday girl was ready to continue the celebration at home with a family cookout and cake.

It was the perfect way to celebrate our sweet girl.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On the Verge of Camping: Part Two (We Came, We Camped, We Conquered)

And now, for the much-anticipated, anticlimactic ending to On the Verge of Camping: Part One, I present to you, lone reader, On the Verge of Camping: Part Two (We Came, We Camped, We Conquered).

We figured that nothing would be more patriotic for the Fourth of July than spending time in the great outdoors, so in lieu of planning on the usual fireworks and watermelon, we reserved a cabin for the night in a state park a bit north of San Francisco.

The cabin, in Samuel P. Taylor State Park near Point Reyes National Seashore, was a lot nicer than I expected. It even had electricity, which I was not expecting and which made me feel kind of like I was cheating on the whole camping thing. It didn’t have it’s own bathroom inside though, so... not cheating?

We slept there this time. I promise. Actually, I mostly dozed off and on throughout the night while shifting around on the loudest plastic mattress that ever was and intermittently shining my flashlight out the window to catch any wildlife that might be trying to gnaw through the window glass to come inside and eat my children or use my toothbrush.

On the way home the next day, we pulled over to admire some harbor seals that we noticed in the water.  I was surprised at how active those beasts were. I couldn’t tell just by looking at them with the nude eye, but when I looked through the zoom lense on my camera, it was like they were all doing a group dance a la West Side Story or Bring it On.  Who would have thought that blubber could move like that?

We stopped at Muir Woods on the way home. It was ridiculously crowded and Matt very kindly offered to drop the girls and me off at the entrance so he could go park the car way back where we had seen available parking spots on the road leading in.

Unfortunately, after five years of marriage, it seems that Matt and I have yet to perfect our nonverbal communication skills. Just as I was shutting the trunk so that he could go park the car miles and miles away, a spot opened up right in front of me. I tried to get his attention, but he mistook my wild arm flapping and urgent facial expression, which I'm pretty sure are the universal sign for, “Sweetheart, please back up the car and park right here in this spot next to me that’s about to be available,” to instead mean, “Drive quickly away from us and look for parking elsewhere.”  

Now that we're letting it all out, I'll go ahead and tell you that I guess we could also stand to work on our verbal communication skills. You see, upon parting at the parking lot, we agreed that we would meet up “at the forest,” which I took as an understanding that the girls and I would pretty much stay put.  Matt assumed it meant that we’d be meeting at the main entrance to the forest (the one with the big sign and the entry fee collection).   Tomayto - Tomahto, am I right?

Well, the girls and I waited; and we waited; and we talked about poison oak; and we went to the bathroom; and we observed a tourist who found no use for the stall door, or the toilet seat, or toilet paper, or soap and water (I guess I wouldn't either if during the whole bathroom operation I touched literally nothing else besides the waistband on my own pants); and we waited; and we identified poison oak; and we talked about the lady in the bathroom; and we asked strangers if they had cell reception (no one did); and we waited.

Our patience was wearing a little thin, but we were hanging in there when, about 45 minutes into our separation, I observed Matt up on a path a bit above the one where we had taken up residence. I was so very relieved to see him walking towards us, so I waved excitedly. He continued walking (briskly! jogging, even!) towards us, and then he arrived to a spot on his path that was about parallel to where we were on our path. 

"Why is he not turning in to cross onto our path?," I wondered. My wave became less excited and more frantic, and I called out his name. But! Then! Was that a hand wave? And a grunt of recognition? Yes, I thought so. If not a wave, then certainly a finger wiggle. And definitely a noise of some sort.

Communication snafu number three. You see, I assumed that the finger wiggle/grunt combo meant, “Hello there. I see you all. I'm so glad we're reunited. I'll be right there" So, when he continued the walk-jog away from us, I was quite certain that he was just going to go ahead a little bit to see if his path connected to our path and then loop around to meet us.  About thirty minutes later, I began to wonder if I had misinterpreted the wiggle/grunt. Or if I had hallucinated my husband. Did I even have a husband? Where did these children come from? 

Turns out, he hadn’t heard me at all. Or seen us. Or finger wiggled. Or grunted. (In retrospect and knowing Matt, the not grunting part makes a lot of sense.)

Anyways, we finally reunited and all was well. We had a hearty chuckle at  our merry mix-up (in the words of Tobias Fünke) and then headed into Muir Woods. I was relieved to learn that the scraggly path that the girls and I had been waiting on for the last 90 minutes was not, as I thought, Muir Woods proper but the trail leading from some of the parking spots to the entrance.

Once we made it in, we found that the actual woods were stunning: filled with big, beautiful trees and enchanting light everywhere. I’d love to go back, perhaps on a weekday when it’s not so crowded. Definitely with walkie talkies.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On the Verge of Camping: Part One

We went camping!

It was something that had been on my bucket list for a while, so once the girls and I discovered the perfect spot a mere 25 minutes from our house, I knew that it was time for our first family wilderness expedition and campout.

So, a few Friday afternoons ago, I loaded up the car with all the necessary equipment and food, and the girls and I swung by Neckflicks and busted Matt out early so we could enjoy some time in the untamed wilderness before it got too dark.

At the park, we were pleased to discover that Alice could locate campsite number seven, the one we had reserved, by pointing to the large "#7" on the park map handed to us upon entry. We tucked our orienteering skills away for future use. The cargo space in Joanna’s stroller was full to capacity with beer and brats, so we had to load our collapsable aluminum captains chairs onto our shoulders, making the journey especially grueling.  My experience hiking the Inca Trail was a boon to the family at this point, when spirits were lagging.*

Once camp was established, we knew that survival priority number one would be locating a source of water. We couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered a faucet right at our campsite.

We then set off on a reconnaissance mission to explore the surrounding area, look for droppings, follow animal tracks, and identify any threats to our safety in the surrounding forest. Having found none, we hastened back to the campsite, as it was nearly four o’clock, and nightfall was fast approaching.

Back at camp, we reflected on how nice it was to just be together in the woods with few distractions.  But for the noise from the thirty or so other campers in the park that evening, it was absolutely pin-drop quiet.  We were so pleased to be joining the ranks of nature lovers like Daniel Boone, H.D. Thoreau, and Timothy Treadwell.

As centuries of outdoorsmen have done before us, we basked in the glow of a fire that we coaxed to life with our hands, great effort, finesse, and a bag of charcoal that came presoaked in lighter fluid and, later, a firestarter log.

Our appetites stoked by fresh air and physical labor, we ate and drank heartily from the provisions we had packed.

After dinner, we invented the most charming dessert that I feel I must share with you all.  Noticing that the texture of marshmallows could be improved by roasting them over the fire, we sandwiched a few toasty ‘mallows and some chocolate pieces between two graham crackers.  I know it sounds crazy, but our zany creation was absolutely delicious!  Alice declared it to be “gooey-er and gooey-er” and kept asking us for some more of the nameless dessert.

After we had eaten all we could and exhausted our repertoire of campfire tales, we doused the fire with water and watched the great clouds of smoke and steam billow up. Alice found them to be "perfectly wonderful."

We broke camp, retraced our steps back to our transport vehicle, and drove back home with the smell of firewood lingering on our clothes, bratwurst juices lingering on our pants, baby food and spit-up lingering on my shirt, and dirt lingering on the sticky marshmallow residue lingering on our fingers, mouths, cheeks, and hair.

Alice was deep in the throes of a sugar crash/nature high duet as we made our way home.  Driving out of the park, she offered us her observations on the experience: "Dad, we're in nature. Recycling. It's so beautiful and so trees." We hurried home, with four little eyelids in the back seat getting droopier and droopier.

Up in the front of the car, Matt and I congratulated each other for being such intrepid, adventure-courting parents.  We would return home triumphant, having  survived, nay, thrived, during our sojourn in the wilderness.

We went camping!

Bucket list goal: completed.

End post.

What’s that you say?

Sleep in a tent?

All night?


Heavens no, we didn’t do that.

Is that something that most campers do?

I see.

That would explain the snickers and head scratching we received from our fellow campers during our 8pm victory march back to our car.

So, you’re telling me that we didn’t actually go camping?

Please don’t tell Alice.

*I did not hike the Inca Trail. I did, however, make all of the preparations to do so, including, my top action item: purchasing 10 or so Snickers bars to keep up my energy along the way.  Unfortunately, my traveling companion contracted a relentless case of Montezuma’s Revenge so we had to cancel our plans and hide out in our Cuzco hotel for three days while she recovered and I ate Snickers bars.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Friends and Family

One major downside to living in California is that we're far from lots of people we love. The upside to our location, however, is that we've been able to spend more quality time with some others of our favorite people.

Jeff and Matt became friends in college, and now that we're all grown up, Jeff and his lovely fiancée Julia, who live up in San Francisco, have become family friends.  Alice adores her godfather Jeff, to a large degree because she has finally found someone unrelated to her who is willing to indulge her goofy sensibilities.

We are also beyond excited that Cousin Dylan is, at least for now, just a very short plane ride (or a longish car ride) away in Southern California. I know that doesn't sound so close, but just knowing that we're in the same state and that we could drive if we wanted to is very comforting. 

He and Vola tagged along recently when a work trip brought Jason to our area.

The first day they were here, Vola and I didn't make it out of the house with the kids at all because one out of the three kids was napping or failing Quiet Time 101 the whole time.

The next morning, however, we hit the sidewalk as soon as the two little kids woke from their morning naps and we enjoyed nearly sixty whole minutes at the park until it was time to go home for lunch.

We could have used an extra set of hands (actually we could have used two extra sets: one to wrangle the third kid and the second to hand us snacks and drinks all day).

One thing I'm learning as we're a few months into our second big move is that hanging out with good friends and family can make any place begin to feel more like home.