Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A First for Second and Fourth

I'm so glad we managed to get away for a few days before school started. And I was tickled pink to be in Yosemite when the call went out to help sort school supplies this year. Thank goodness that was something I couldn't help with at all. I got roped into helping with a coaching clinic for soccer, but that was fine.

I took Mam out to see if I could find her a cute dress for the first day of school. She's always resistant to going out. No matter what she's up to at home, it's always more interesting than anything involving getting in the car. We went to Kohl's. Nothing. We went to Target. Nothing again. I sighed and asked if she wanted to wear clothes she already had or go to the nearby mall...expecting a swift end to shopping. We went to the mall. She found a dress at Macy's. I hated it. I made her go to Gymboree. Nothing she liked and nothing I wanted to afford anyway. I dragged her to JCPenney. Nothing. Finally, I had to suck it up and tell her she could have the dress at Macy's. I hadn't checked the price tag. At least it was on sale.

When we got back to Macy's, she went right back to the dress she'd found and then chose its neighbor...which still wasn't something I would have picked out, but was a whole lot cuter than the original choice. I agreed quickly and we checked out as fas as possible, before she could change her mind.

She may have been overdressed for the first day of school, but at least she was cute.Smunch wasn't thrilled with the teacher he'd been assigned for the year. I was pretty happy because she was the only fourth grade teacher who wasn't new to the school and she has a good reputation. It didn't show that much, but I think Smunch was pretty anxious about the first day.Mam, on the other hand, got just the teacher she wanted...except that that teacher now has a shared classroom, so she'll only be there part time and is sharing with a former kindergarten teacher. I like her teachers, but I wasn't super thrilled about another shared contract. Mostly, I was relieved that she didn't get one of the other teachers...who is also a terrific teacher, but I thought Mam would be particularly poorly suited to her style.

Mam couldn't wait to get to school. She really missed her friends over the summer and was just so excited about everything!As is tradition...in many families, I suppose...Daddy and I walked the kids to school.They chattered happily the whole way. It's so nice to have them be excited about school. When I look at what other parents deal with in terms of first-day jitters and separation issues, I have to admit that I'm very fortunate. My kids clearly love me, but they're also happy without me. I must've done something right somewhere along the line!This year was strange because the kids wait in lines all the way across the blacktop from each other. So, I couldn't easily go back and forth between them. I missed meeting any of the teachers. But that was fine. One of them knows me and the other two probably know who I am as well. I've been a known quantity at school for a while now.

Both kids seemed perfectly happy in line for their new classes. Although I'm sure he had no qualms, Daddy carefully questioned Mam about whether she was really ready for second grade.Mam gently reassured him that she was indeed ready for the year and all it entailed.

As if I needed more proof that I burned out almost every volunteer impulse last year, I took one look at the annual back-to-school coffee (where the year's volunteers are recruited) and decided that I'd really like to go home...to my eerily quiet house, eat breakfast and read the paper.

Mam, predictably, had a great first day and to my great relief, Smunch was thrilled with his class too and reports that he really likes his new teacher.

It's going to be a good year.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Last Waterfall

We were due to leave on Thursday and had to be out of the cabin by 10. But that didn't mean we had to leave Yosemite right away. We packed a lunch and headed to the trailhead for Chilnualna Falls...one of the lesser-known waterfalls in the Park. In ways, it's not as grand as its cousins in the Valley. The full hike to the top, however, takes three-and-a-half hours. It's a long waterfall with lots of different cascades. And it's not as small as it might appear in that photo at the top. Here are the kids next to the same cascade. See them?The hike to the lowest part of the falls was a whopping 10 minutes or so and we weren't quite ready for our trip to be over, so we continued up to appreciate some of the other cascades.Finally, not so far up, we found a cascade with a pool where you wouldn't be washed over a cliff if you dove in. Mam, ever the enthusiastic water sprite, was first into a swim suit. Smunch refused at the get go. Mam never got further than her feet, however. It was COLD! Didn't stop me from diving in head first however. And, uh, it was COLD. One little lap over to the falls, where there was quite a current, was enough for me.I got right out and dried off on a warm rock. Daddy took a little swim too and agreed it was "refreshing". All dressed back in our hiking clothes, we set off back down the trail, got in the mommymobile and made one last stop at the grounds of the Wawona Hotel to eat our lunch before we set off home...where two lonely kitties and the announcement of the kids' classes for the Fall awaited...

More Haze and River Floating

I don't know what possessed us to take the drive over to Glacier Point on our third day in the Park. We knew the wildfire was burning on that road. And no, it wasn't a great, big dangerous fire, so driving the road was no big deal and the kids enjoyed seeing the little fires burning.

But the detour probably took us 90 minutes out of our way to the Valley and the views were, uh, compromised, shall we say? That part was pretty predictable, but we figured the smoke in the Valley was getting worse and the views weren't going to be better the next day, so might as well give it a shot. It didn't even look too bad for a while...you know, until we *got* there!Perhaps there is something slightly majestic about Half Dome rising over the blanket of smoke. Uh, maybe. You could hear Nevada and Vernal Falls from up there much better than you could see them.And the kids, especially Mam, were slightly annoyed that this little side trip delayed their opportunity to go "rafting" for the first time.

Because that's what we'd told them we were going to do. After all the complaining about hiking, I figured we needed something else. Anything else to get them excited about this trip. So, rafting the Merced River in the Valley it was. I made Daddy stop again along the way for some more pretty meadow pictures. I doubt the kids were thrilled about that either, but I wasn't in the car, so I didn't hear about it.Of course, we arrived in the Valley somewhat later and had a hard time parking. We finally made it, hopped an overcrowded shuttle to the rental place, filled out forms and stood in line. They're pretty particular about making sure kids weigh at least 50 pounds before they're allowed in a raft. You have to sign something saying that they are. But one look at our featherweight of a Mam and the guy at the window wasn't so sure. He invited her inside for a little weigh-in.

I was sure she was over 50 pounds, but honestly I don't weigh her daily or even weekly. I was suddenly struck by fear that maybe she'd somehow lost weight since she was last weighed. She hadn't. I guess her height makes up for those toothpick legs somehoww because she was about 55.

We waited for an "orientation"...which should probably be entitled "10 Dumb Things You Shouldn't Do While Rafting". And we finally got our raft and schlepped it over to the river. This would have made a good picture, but there were no extra hands for a camera.

For those who have been rafting, I should probably explain that this wasn't exactly rafting. It was more like floating-in-a-raft while dodging the occasional bridge jumper. Still, that seemed perfect for our timid Smunch. I'd half expected him to refuse to go altogether, but it turns out he was totally game and really enjoyed himself.And Mam wasn't even questionable. She was going to be happy regardless. We weren't hiking, after all and that was the best news she'd heard all trip.The views from the river were also predictably hazy, so I'm sure this trip could be more spectacular. But it was made spectacular by a couple of happy kids who couldn't wait to set back out as soon as we were done lunching on the shore.We made the trip in some time under the advertised two hours, dragged the raft out and waited for the bus to take us back. We treated the kids to some ice cream and decided to take a leisurely walk back to the car. After all, it's not a hike if you're just going to the vehicle that takes you back to the swimming hole, right?

Actually, we'd planned to go on another short hike to the waterfall by the cabin, but by the time we got back, it was already getting late and we opted just to stop at the swimming hole instead. Daddy and the kids watched a little girl using part of the rapids as a water slide and decided to try that out. I was pretty proud of the kids' fledgling swimming skills. They looked a little alarmed being whisked along in the current, but had a blast. It was fun for me too. I was a little sorry I'd left the camera in the car, but then, maybe it was more fun without it.

Down in the Valley

Wawona is about an hour's drive from Yosemite Valley. It means that it's not as crazy or crowded, but it also means a drive there and back every day you feel the need to go. You can't not go to the Valley, especially with children. They probably wouldn't even know they'd been to Yosemite without a few waterfalls and big, big rocks.

Most years, the waterfalls are mere trickles by August. The fact that it rained a ton this year was what prompted me to get the trip organized mid-summer. For a change, there would still be something to see. We made a stop at Bridalveil Falls on our way down the hill.Then, we stopped for some nice views of Upper Yosemite Falls before locating a place to park. Fortunately, we'd managed to make it there early enough that parking wasn't a big problem. And our parking spot also featured a nice view of Half Dome.The air was a little hazy from the smoke of a nearby wildfire, but it wasn't too bad.

We hiked up to Mirror Lake, which was more meadow than lake, even in a wet year. And the air was even hazier by the time we got there. So I the views of Half Dome were mostly obscured. I took pictures of flowers. How novel.We made our way back, had lunch and set out to visit Lower Yosemite Falls...and easy hike that was nonetheless complained about vociferously. And Smunch, who had developed any number of concerns about any number of things we did or saw, was very concerned about all those people out there breaking the rules and climbing on the rocks below the falls.They're just tiny in this picture. I'm not sure what Smunch expected me to do about those hundreds of transgressions. Send them all to their rooms, perhaps?

Although we're all looking pretty happy in this photo, I'd had quite enough of the whining by 2 or 3 o'clock and we decided to head back over the mountain to our cabin.We stopped at the Tunnel View overlook...because that's just what you do, isn't it?It gave us a good idea just how smoky it was. And it gave me another idea. Seven years ago, a dear friend of mine had a wedding in Yosemite Valley...a lovely affair that I failed to appreciate with my premature 6-month-old who screamed bloody murder on all car rides. But during one of the less screamy moments, we'd stopped at this very spot for a family photo. Things have changed just a bit since then...and it's not just that the air's smokier.Naturally, there was more jumping off rocks into the river when we got back. Too bad we can't end every day like that at home.

Back Outside

We started off our summer with a camping trip, so why not end it in the great outdoors as well? We last went camping in Yosemite in 2008. That time, it was sort of a fluke. I happened to check for camping reservations in May or so and there was ONE campsite available in the park, so we took it. That sort of thing doesn't happen very often. Yes. I checked.

So, this time around, we again stayed in Wawona, but rented a little cabin for 3 nights instead of camping. All in all, it doesn't save that much work except for setting up camp and taking it down. The bathrooms are more convenient and you don't need quarters for the showers. Still, I'd be camping if I'd had the choice.But the cabin had everything we needed, including two bedrooms so we wouldn't have to try and get the kids to sleep in the same room. Bedtime was a nightmare in San Diego. It not only had satellite TV (on which to watch the Giants lose repeatedly), but wireless internet too. Thankfully, we weren't there that much!

We stopped overnight in Fresno to visit Grandpa Ryder on our way to the park. From there it's a pretty short drive into Yosemite and we made our first stop at the Mariposa Grove because that was something we skipped three years ago and it was right there at the entrance.It made for a nice, albeit long-by-kidlet-standards, hike among the sequoias. We saw some deer and this chimpunk who kindly posed on a branch for me.The kids weren't overawed by the trees, but I think they were at least a little impressed. There were flowers and butterflies. Those kept Mam agape intermittently.Not really long enough to stop the whining though. In her defense, the shoes she'd worn were too small and the walk is hardly flat. I don't imagine her feet felt too good.We were able to check into our cabin an hour early and were advised on the local waterfall and swimming holes. After we got the mommymobile unpacked, we headed for a recommended spot in the river. You've never seen a kid happier to be in the water than Mam was.Too cold? Not a chance! It turned out you could jump right into the river from the rocks above.That is, you could jump in if you were very careful to note that it was only about four feet deep! Daddy learned quickly.

Interestingly, it wasn't fearless Mam who launched herself off the rocks next, it was my timid little Smunch.Despite Smunch's glowing reports about how much fun it was, Mam wasn't so sure.It took watching Daddy, Smunch and me jumping off several times for her to warm up to the idea. Then, of course, it was all the rage and she jumped over and over, later instructing other children on the ins and outs of jumping from the rock.We went back to the cabin to change into dry clothes and then set out on a pre-dinner hike around the nearby meadow. This seemed like a great idea. The light was beautiful, I figured we'd see a deer or two and it was an easy, flat trail.The one part I'd failed to account for was that it's a meadow and meadows often mean standing water, especially in a year like this one where there was a lot of rain. And evening brings mosquitoes. Mosquitoes like me. A lot. Turns out they find the rest of the family pretty tasty as well. At least there were some pretty flowers.And the light was indeed lovely.I'm sure we walked faster as we went along. I may have forgotten the DEET, but at least I brought the hydrocortisone!

Summer Veggies

It's been such a sad, sad summer in my garden. It's been so cool that these were the first two tomatoes to ripen and there've been only about five more. None of the bigger tomatoes are red yet...although one of them is a yellow/green tomato anyway. The basil's all ready to go, but no tomatoes to eat it with! The string beans have been fun though. Mam helped me plant a variety of colors, so we've got purple, yellow and green beans. They're good too...although the purple beans actually turn green when you cook them. You can see a couple of funny little squashes. I thought I was buying yellow crook-necked squash, but clearly I blew it. These are little, green spaceship-shaped squashes instead.

Fortunately, I got the netting over the pear tree in time to save our crop from squirrels this year. There are tons of ripening pears out there. And our apple tree will have a crop for the first time this year too...of three different apple varieties. I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out...although I may have let our little tree become a tad overambitious this year!

Wrapping Up

Gosh, summer seems to last forever around here and yet be painfully short at the same time. I don't remember summers being like this when I was a kid. They seemed to stretch out forever. I was usually ready to go back to school. And I wasn't signed up for several camps with built in entertainment either. Somehow, I managed to entertain myself without turning on the TV all the time. I wonder how that happened.

So, the last couple of weeks of summer finally arrived with August. I was excited to take Smunch to baseball camp at the San Jose Giants' Municipal Stadium. He'd declared that he liked neither of the baseball camps he'd been to in previous summers, so I thought this one might be good for a change...and it would be a blast for him to get to play on the big field with stands and a PA system. Meanwhile, I sent Mam to cooking school for half a day each day. It didn't really give me a lot of time and it turned into even less time when Smunch got sick after just one day of baseball camp.

He made it to the first day and the last day and missed everything in between. What a bummer! Still, he was looking like a pro on the last day, when they got to play games and be announced over the PA system.He really enjoyed the camp. Hard to tell if that's because he missed two days or because it was a better experience for him. They gave us an evaluation of his skills. It fairly glowed with praise and said he stood out in his group. Maybe that was the big difference. In other camps he didn't stand out. But it turns out that many of the boys in San Jose had only played for a season or two. Smunch just finished his fifth. No matter. He had a good time. That's all that counts for me!

And although I took no pictures of Mam in her cute little cooking apron, she had a blast baking every morning. She even started asking to help in the kitchen all the time. Once in a while, I can even come up with something for her to do and that's pretty darned cute. Worth every penny, that camp.

The same week saw the end of swimming lessons for the summer. I feel like I can finally say with some confidence that the kids can swim. They may not look pretty doing it, but given a fall into a pool, they're not just going to give up and drown.And I was perversely pleased that the brother/sister pair they had lessons with was far more misbehaved and obnoxious than they were. After this summer, they've been taught all the strokes, they just need some polishing. O.K., so they still look like they're drowning if they're attempting to swim butterfly, but still... Smunch's freestyle was looking great and Mam's backstroke is coming along nicely The evening after Mam's last day of camp (Friday, where Smunch was done on Thursday), we took our last summer trip to AT&T Park. Smunch was not thrilled with the choice of games we'd made.The biggest fan in the world does not like to see his team lose and he figured that a game against the Phillies was a likely loss.

Mam, on the other hand, was thrilled that we decided to take her to a game this season.And although she enjoyed a hot dog and some cotton candy, she mostly reminded me why we don't take her to games. She's a real pain. Crawling on the ground, asking to go home, being bored out of her mind.

Of course, by the time the sixth inning rolled around, Smunch was asking to go home too. This almost never happens, but Jonathan Sanchez was pitching and doing a poor job of it. They were losing 8-2. We made him stick around a little longer. And what a great idea that was! The only redeeming value to the game, in the end, was getting to see a bench-clearing scrum initiated by Sanchez hitting Shane Victorino with a pitch and Victorino making like he was going to charge the mound.This lasted quite some time and was the most amusing part of an eventual 9-2 loss.

One more family vacation and then summer is just about over. Thank goodness. The fighting and boredom are both unbearable. Then again, so is homework...