Wednesday, July 29, 2009

my favorite morning

Since the girls discovered the 6 a.m. low-tide situation at our beach, it was urgent to set up an early morning swim event. I'm not a morning person, Holly is definitely not a morning person, and Armella? I'm not sure, but no one jumped on that request with joyous enthusiasm. However, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and started waking the girls up one by one. Only 6 of the 9 who assured me they definitely wanted to get up, actually wanted to get up. We headed down to the water and had the entire beach to ourselves. There was not a soul as far as the eye could see in either direction. It was a bit foggy, surprisingly warm, and a whole lot of fun.
That misty, mystical, overcast, early morning light lasted for about an hour. It felt magical out there. The sand was softer and smoother than at the swimming beach. The waves were soft and perfect for the girls. The air temperature was divine.
Not everyone thought the water temperature was perfect though:The girls played out there for well over two hours. We saw some pelicans:
We saw dolphins and sea lions almost everyday. The dolphins are much quicker in and out of the water and harder to catch on camera The sea lions would swim quite close to the beach but not in groups, we'd just see a head pop up, then we'd see it pop up again about a hundred yards further down the beach. They'd swim one direction every morning, then we'd see them heading the other direction in the evenings. It's like they were going off to work each day. One in particular stayed in the area for about 5 minutes. I don't know who was more curious, the sea lion or the girls.Although they really were close to shore, these pictures are a bit deceptive and look even closer, because of the camera zoom, I suppose. The girls were one one side of the breaking waves, and the animals stayed safely on the other side of the waves. They were close enough to see, but far enough away for both groups to feel safely separated.
Later in the morning, the sun began to come out, and more girls finally began to get up and join us, but the tide was coming in by then and we were loosing our sandy beach. The early morning swim didn't end until they realized it was definitely time to get some breakfast in their tummies. It really was a fun magical morning.

anacapa island

The second day of camp, we lounged all morning, had a slow, incredibly good dutch oven breakfast, walked down the road and swam in the ocean til the sun went down.
We had a field trip planned for the third day, so we had to get up really early. The girls then discovered that the tide is out at 6 am and there is an beautiful exposed sandy beach beyond the rocks right at our very own campsite. "YAY - can we swim??" Um, no. I think we have mentioned about 73 times this morning that we need to get dressed quickly, eat breakfast, and leave in a few minutes? "Ok, we'll hurry . . . but can we swim for just 10 minutes first?" Um, no. My goodness, I said NO more times on this trip than I ever did with a household of toddlers:
Can I trade seats in the car? NO
Can use my cell phone for a minute? NO
Everyone is busy, can I walk down to the bathroom alone? NO
Can I ride in the other car? NO
Can I have more cinnamon rolls? NO, there's not enough for everyone to have seconds.
Can we go in the water? NO
Can I go to bed? NO, wash your dishes first.
Can I swim without my water shoes? NO
Can I have something different to eat? NO
Can I trade tents? NO
There were a lot of YES questions too, though:
Do I have to eat my vegetables? YES
Do I have to wear sunscreen? YES
Is it our turn for clean-up again? YES
Do we have to walk the whole way? YES
And there were a lot of questions that were answered with a shrug:
Where are my water shoes? I don't know, where did you leave them?
There's no spoon in my dunk bag! I don't know, where did you leave it?
Where's my flashlight? I don't know, where did you leave it?
I can't find my jacket! I don't know, where did you leave it?
Summarizing like that sounds like I was the meanest woman in camp. (Maybe I was . . . )
Anyway, I've been to Catalina Island several times and I thought it was a solitary little island off the coast of LA. I'm a little surprised to learn that Catalina is part of a chain of islands and we visited one called Anacapa Island. We took a 45 minute boat ride out. The girls stood at the bow of the boat and enjoyed the ride. We saw a pod of dolphins in the distance. There were probably about 50 of them. As we rode closer to them, the dolphins surrounded the boat and rode the wake of the boat for quite a while. On our way back, we rode around the back side of the island and saw sea lions galore sunning on the rocks and we spotted a whale so the boat captain made a little detour to get a closer look. It popped up and back down into the water so quickly a few times, but I think most everyone was able to see it.Anacapa Island is pretty, but half of it is very white. The naturalist told us that most people think it is because of the makeup or the chemistry of the rock, but no. The island is a bird sanctuary and the white is guano . . . bird poop. EEEWWW!
Sabrina summed it up in a poem she wrote in her travel journal:
Seagulls by the Ocean
Seagulls, seagulls everywhere,
Next time you sea one you better beware,
On an island you'll think it's snow,
But the next time you sea a seagull,
I guess you'll know!
(cute poem, huh?)
Anyway, as we approached the island, I began wondering how we would actually get off the boat and onto land. It seemed to be surrounded by cliffs. And indeed it was. The boat dock was at the base of a set of steps. I didn't count, but the girls' estimates ranged between 87 steps and 152 steps. Either way, it was a long way up. (oh, I just looked it up - 156 steps!)
Did I mention 'bird sanctuary'? The ground looked mostly like this: . . . and like this:A naturalist took us on a tour of the island explaining the nature of a conservancy, the types of plants and the nature of the birds that lived there. There is no natural water source on the entire island. The only animals that live there are the gulls, a few mice and lizards. Nothing else. Oh and some UGLY plants. I've been hiking in some beautiful areas this summer, but this hike left the rocky desert areas of Phoenix looking like paradise!Then all of a sudden, we walked up to "Inspiration Point". Ahhh. And it appears that it is a dizzying drop off into the ocean below. Well, it was. And again, moms, so you won't be nervous (goodness know, I was) the naturalist had the adults go ahead and guard the edge before the girls were allowed to walk into the area.Try as we might, you can't force everyone to be inspired at "Inspiration Point":I enjoyed watching the girls as we walked along. The littlest ones in the group were seriously prepared, shade hats, camelpacks full of water, extra sunscreen, cameras at the ready. The older girls in the group were more about accessorizing the girl scout shirts.The last event on the island was an interactive video conference with a diver. She was diving in the cove below us and was televised on a big screen on patio-like area above. The girls could actually talk to the diver and ask questions: "Hello, my name is Gloria and I was wondering what is the most interesting thing you've seen today?" She and her cameraman swam around the kelp in those 30 minutes or so and found among other things a lobster, an octopus, and a little polka-dotted shark to show the group.After we left the island, we had to still stop in town for supplies, drive back to our campsite, cook dinner and fall into bed EXHAUSTED! I think everyone slept well every single night.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

beach camping

I promised a few moms that I would post some pictures of our trip with the girl scouts. If you are not a mom, this is your notice that there will be a lot of pictures and this will be long and there will be several posts. Move on now.
I've never been a girl scout, or had any friends who were girl scouts, or had any of my daughters in girl scouts. However, we have a persuasive girl scout leader in our neighborhood who swooped our youngest, Melanie, into her troop in about 2nd or 3rd grade and she's been selling girl scout cookies ever since. This troop has an outdoor adventure focus and has a lot of camping and hiking and water activities. Their annual reward trip has been beach camping. Melanie hasn't been able to go every year because of conflicts with family events, but loved it when she could. I got talked into going this year and I looked forward to it with guarded anticipation. On one hand, beach camping sounded enticing to me. On the other hand, camping with 13 little people, 12 of whom are not my offspring, left me a breathing irregularly with anxiety if I thought about it too much.
We gathered at 4 am on a Monday morning to load the cars and hit the road at 5:30. We had to make a stop at the famous roadside dinosaurs. I've never stopped there before. Holly was flabbergasted to hear that. She has been stopping there every road trip since she was a little girl. If you are familiar with the dinosaurs near Cabazon on the I-10, have you ever stopped at them? Are we the only family that has missed this landmark all these years? It was featured in the film "Pee Wee's Big Adventure". And did you know there is a gift shop in the belly of one of the dinosaurs? Well now you do.These four gorgeous teenagers got along famously. Three of them have been friends since they were babies. One girl is a new friend but who felt like a lifelong friend. They worked hard, played hard, talked and laughed 24/7, always helped the younger girls, and couldn't have been more pleasant. They are smiling sweetly in this picture because I think at some subconscious level, they realized this was the last time they wouldn't have sand in their scalp, in their ears, between their toes, and in their food.
We were only driving from Phoenix to the coast, but imagine that trip with little girls of various road trip experience and various bladder sizes. We arrived at 3:30 pm. -- 10 HOURS! We still had to unload, unpack, set up tents, and cook dinner. But do you think we could keep those girls from the water? I think not. (Moms - just so you know, they were not allowed near the water without an adult and they all closely adhered to this rule. It worked in my favor on occassion because I'm not very skilled in dutch ovens or outdoor cooking so I often took water duty while the other adults supervised the cooking crew.) There was a big sandy area for camping, then these rocks had been dumped along the water's edge for about a mile up and down the beach (beach/sand conservation, I suppose). There was a swimming beach about a 10 minute walk down the road, but not right in front of our camp site. These rocks were treacherous to walk on. The rocks were on an incline down to the water and besides being wet and slippery, they moved and shifted under your foot with every step. It took a good 5 minutes to walk down the little incline. You can't swim here because you can't walk or maneuver in or near the water. The upside, however, is that as the waves hit the rocks and recede back, the rocks would shift and clink against each other and had a pleasant popping sound much like the popping sound after a big beautiful fireworks display. I think the rocks disappointed the girls at first, but then they came up with 101 things to do with them. They lined the walkways around camp, built dams to keep the surf out, dug out pit houses and surrounded them with rocks and as a favor to me, they searched for heart shaped rocks. I brought one home, though I think I may have a hernia from carrying a 45 pound rock up the death defying slope.
We got unpacked, set up and enjoyed a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sunset.
Knowing we were going to end the next 5 days enjoying this view warmed my heart.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Dave sings in a men's competitive chorus and his international competition was in Anaheim over the 4th of July weekend this year so we took a little road trip. Dave loves to drive and he especially likes to drive his truck. So halfway to Anaheim, which should take appx. 5 1/2 hours, (remember this number, we will do some math at the end of this post) Dave suggests we take a driving detour up and over the hills around Palm Springs. I don't happen to enjoy adding hours onto a road trip just to see some pretty scenery, but this was Dave's trip and I relented and agreed to take the scenic byway. The road takes off out out of the barren desert valley and winds up and up and up. It was a little disappointing that we were adding an hour to our trip just to get a more majestic view of the barren desert. However, after this point, the road twisted right up into the pine trees and high mountain meadows and the cutest little towns you ever saw. Definitely places that would be fun to return for a weekend in the future. The only problem was that instead of taking an extra hour, it was taking an extra 2 hours and Dave had to be in Anaheim for his first chorus rehearsal at 8pm and we were cutting it close. So we wound back down the far side of the mountains on a narrow and motion-sickness inducing road and barely made it to town on time. Dave had the next two days full of rehearsals and so I planned on lounging in the hotel room. That plan got boring after the first half day. I found there is very little to do in Anaheim if you are not planning to do anything Disney related, but I did find a little place called Oak Canyon Nature Center in the Anaheim hills. I felt very brave navigating the freeways (I don't like driving Dave's huge truck much anyway). And I actually made it to and from without incident. I am actually a pretty good navigator, though Dave claims I'm not. We had quite a heated "discussion" on that topic during this trip. But who is he to judge? (just because I'm his one and only navigator when we drive . . . ) Anyway - I am reminded again of the beauty that is not found in our hometown neighborhood. This was a 50 acre nature center with a bubbling brook running through it and miles of hiking trails. One hiking trail was named "Tranquility Loop", but the main flaw with that area was that there was a day camp being held for 2nd graders right in the center of the loop. Now, I love the sights and sounds of 2nd graders, but 'tranquil" it was not.
The next afternoon, Dave got away from rehearsals for a couple of hours so we visited the Muzeo Museum, Monsters and Beasts Exhibit. It was a little bit cool, showing Hollywood special effects and animatronics.
We did succumbed to the pressure of a Disney event. The convention center where Dave's events were is literally right across the street from Disneyland so we ate a couple of meals in the restaurants of Downtown Disney. Goofy was everywhere. The last day of the the competition, Dave had already performed and it was the finals for the quartets. They are fun to watch, but Dave talked me into 'ditching' and taking yet another road trip detour. Have I mentioned that I really am not a fan of driving extra hours for the sake of driving extra hours? He had been wanting to go up to Sequoia National Park which is up north of Bakersfield (which is 3 1/2 hours north of where we were . . . . THREE AND A HALF HOURS! . . . ONE WAY!)
We hadn't planned on this side trip ahead of time, so we had no hotel reserved for Friday night. We called and got a list of little hotels that are in the little tiny town of Three Rivers which is at the entrance of the park. It was 4th of July weekend and there were no vacancies anywhere. But one woman said "I have a friend that has a bed and breakfast and probably will have an opening". So we called. "Yes, we can accommodate you, but we are way off the road, and there is no phone service once you get into town, so call before you get to town and I'll have my husband meet you down at the restaurant/lounge and he'll drive you up here. We are way up the canyon, beautiful view, etc, etc, you'll love it". We were about 45 minutes later than we thought we'd be, it was 10:30 pm and while waiting for us, the husband had been drinking quite a bit. The drive up the this alleged Bed and Breakfast was on a dirt road behind 3 locking gates way up into the canyon. We then realized: 1.We told no one we were taking this side trip. 2. We have no phone service 3. We are being let into the unknown hills 4. We don't know the name of this Bed and Breakfast 5. We don't know this man, don't even know his last name 5. If we die, no one will have a clue where to look for our remains. (Actually, only I was thinking these thoughts. And I was trying to keep them to myself because I was kind of freaking out.)
This place was what I would call communal living. It was a cabin in the woods that had random bedrooms for rent. There were guests cooking in the kitchen, others hanging out in the living room and now we were thrown into the mix. It was the most awkward situation I could even imagine. The bedroom we were given had no air circulation so we had to sleep with the window and the door open to keep from sweating to death all night. And did I mention there were random people sharing this house? It was like a public motel without a front door. I was sleeping (trying to) with people walking up and down the hall right past our bedroom. Seriously awkward. And the breakfast part of the "Bed and Breakfast" was bring your own groceries and feel free to use our kitchen. We had no groceries so we had no breakfast and we were heading up into the park, not back down the hill into town, so we started out the day hungry and went forward with our day in the park.
Sequoia National Park is amazing. We got a little education in forestry while we were there. Sequoias are shorter than the Redwoods, but have the more massive trunks.
This picture was hard to get with only us in it because this is the biggest tree in the world, therefore the biggest attraction in the park. Being that it was 4th of July weekend, it was crowded and the area looked like this:
Then we drove up to the higher areas and hiked up to an overlook site. I made sure this picture was taken against the snow capped mountains in the background so it would appear we really hiked a great distance, but it was only about a 20 minute hike to the top from where we parked.
The drive through the park is absolutely gorgeous. When you drive to the bottom of the hill, the trees end very abruptly, then it's on to crossing the hot barren desert again.
We left at 3:30 pm, and we hadn't eaten a thing in almost 24 hours. There's not a snack bar or even a vending machine anywhere in that park so we were glad to be back in civilization. I said I'd be willing to take this little road trip detour as long as we left California at a reasonable time. We had to be back home for Sunday morning, and I told Dave I really didn't want to be driving until 3 in the morning. We left the park late afternoon and so true to his word, he got us home at 2:45 a.m.
We drove by a big nasty fire in or near Parker AZ at 11:30 pm, but couldn't find anything in the news about it the next morning. And I thought we'd miss all the fireworks, but surprisingly also in Parker, they do their fireworks display in the middle of the night in that little town. The town's fireworks program ended at 11:40 pm. Either they started very late, or they had a grand 3 hour show!

Our original driving plan: 11 total hours of driving for a round trip drive to Anaheim. Our actual driving total: TWENTY TWO HOURS of driving in a truck. I'm getting a written guaranteed travel plan from Dave next time we leave town.