Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Twilight Hiking

I've been able to take a nice hike before or after dinner several evenings lately. The light is so nice around 8 o'clock. I've been sick today, so I didn't really get out of the house until around 7. I realized too late that I hadn't brought my camera...except then I realized that I'd also failed to take it out of the car, so I had it after all. (Being a slob has its perks.) And I finally took it with me. Couldn't have been a better evening for it.
See. It's not only my children I take photographs of.
I like handsome young guys as well...

Hardly anything special about seeing a few deer at this place. Maybe they are kind of like rats or pigeons of the local meadows, but they do look a lot more regal than the regular ol' vermin.

Return to Uvas Canyon

If you managed to read through my giant, long post from May, the one called "Quick Fix", you may remember that we went camping at Uvas Canyon County Park right after Easter this year. It was fun, but ultimately kinda ill-fated as camping goes. That's generally how we roll with Spring Break camping. I'm anxious to get out. The weather isn't anxious to cooperate.

So, when my "coffee buddies" and I decided it'd be fun to take all of our kids...all 11 of them...on a weekend camping trip this July, Uvas Canyon seemed like a great choice. It's just an hour's drive, it's got a shady campground, waterfalls, creeks, some wildlife.
You almost wouldn't know from this picture that the four of us had been wrangling 12 children (one of them invited a guest) for a couple of days straight.

The best part about going places with these ladies is that we've all known each other since our 10-year-olds were tiny babies. We were all around for the births of our second set of kids...and in a couple cases, the third set. It's great to be around people who know about your kids, are comfortable playing with them and reprimanding them if necessary.
I love that.

And our kids aren't all that familiar with each other anymore. None of them go to school together. But they're familiar enough that they know each other's names and they can get back into the swing of things pretty quickly. In the case of certain monkeys, pretty darned fast, actually.
My kids were in camp in downtown San Jose on Friday...Mam training goats at Happy Hollow and Smunch playing baseball at the San Jose Giants' stadium. No point in going home, so I picked them up and we drove straight to the campground, where we arrived at least an hour before everyone else, took our pick of camping spots and were all set up and having some snacks before the rest of the crew showed up.

Dinner was late in coming with everyone arriving after work and getting themselves set up. So s'mores were postponed 'til Saturday. There were still marshmallows to roast though.

Saturday,we herded all the kids together for a hike around the waterfalls. They all got to see a tiny little rattlesnake who seemed patently unimpressed with the attention.
Plenty of banana slugs for entertainment too.
There was a little whining and complaining as we walked uphill, but once they discovered things like making facepaint by rubbing creek rocks together, things improved markedly.
After lunch at the campsite, we took the kids on a fun creekwalk. When you have 12 kids with you, they get pretty spread out, but somehow they all seemed to have at least one of us looking out for them.
This particular walk ended in a surprise waterfall, which was a great addition to the trip.
There were hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner and s'mores for dessert. It's hard to imagine a bunch of happier kids.
Before leaving on Sunday, we all headed back down the creek from a different direction and went back to the waterfall to let the kids play. Somehow, it didn't surprise me that my two were some of the only kids to get right under the waterfall. There is almost nothing epitomizes them more than this.

I don't think this trip could have gone any better. Sure there were plenty of sibling squabbles, kids being reprimanded for various things, a little blood, a few tears and a lot of wet clothes. We're already talking about planning another trip next summer.

Can't wait! We're off on a single-family camping trip to Sequoia National Park this weekend. Somehow, I'm not sure the kids will have nearly as much fun!

Spencer! Lucas! - San Diego 2012

Early July marked time for us to head down to San Diego for our annual visit to the Westbrook family. Despite their sibling-like squabbles, Smunch and Mam never seem to get enough of their cousins. It's nice to see because I'm never really done spending time with my sister (Aunt Karen!) either.

This year's theme? Water. Then again, given the opportunity. I think my kids would have a water theme every single day of the year. This time, they had to settle for every day of the trip instead. So Monday...
we went to the swimming pool shortly after arriving. Smunch and Mam showed off their comfort in the water.
Although, frankly, they can't compete with Spencer! for pure fearlessness. This kid is only six.
They stayed in the pool so long that Aunt Karen had to take Lucas! home for a nap.
Then there was this, at Santee Lakes:
More of the same at 4S Ranch, where I took no pictures. And this on our last day:
I don't know why the beach always seems to get saved 'til our last day. It's kind of a production to get out there, but I think the kids would be happy to be there all day every day. Somewhere in there, we also visited the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum at Miramar. Smunch said he didn't want to go, but wanted to stay the longest. Of course. Mam enjoyed it too, to my surprise.
I don't know why I find it so amusing to be corrected by my 10-year-old. "Do you want to go take a look at the tanks?" I asked. "Mom, those are tactical vehicles," he replied in exasperation. (shrug) Look like tanks to me, but what do I know?
Of course, July 4th was thrown in there too. We opted for a short trip to Poway during the day to check out their Independence Day activities. It was a quaint and fun way to spend a few hours after an awesome pancake breakfast at Aunt Karen's house. The park has an old-timey steam train that was up and running. Every other train ride included a mock gun-fight.
And every hour, they set off a canon, just for fun. There was live music, there were snow cones and watermelon and barbeque. The boys all took a ride on the train with Aunt Karen.
It was a long wait for the train and Mam wasn't up for that, so I took her for some watermelon and a long wait to have her face painted instead.
The trip was a great success. Everyone went back happy with their day, especially after some snow cones.

I'd hoped to get some tickets to watch San Diego's "Big Bay Boom" firework show from the deck of the USS Midway, but by the time we arrived in San Diego, the tickets were sold out. Just as well. San Diego's fireworks show was probably the biggest fiasco it'd ever been. It made national news, it was so catastrophic. At least no one was hurt.

Instead, we took the mellower route of watching fireworks local to Aunt Karen from a nearby elementary school. The kids played with (er, ehm) sparklers:

and played catch while they were waiting. There was plenty of room.

Maybe the show wasn't quite as spectacular as what folks should have seen from the deck of the Midway, but I suspect it was a lot more fun that what they actually saw.

And that made our holiday a success.

Many thanks to Uncle David for taking all four kids for an evening and letting Aunt Karen and me go out for a terrific dinner. We got to enjoy a rare, great conversation and for a change, almost got to feel like grownups!

Summer Ball

Naturally, life did not stop at home just because I went to Wyoming. Soon after I got back, Mam finished up her competitive softball season.

As the very youngest player on the team, she improved markedly and by the last tournament, she had become the team's leadoff hitter.
She was fielding balls cleanly from time to time and making good throws to first base for outs.
Well, mostly cleanly, anyway.
I don't think she ever caught a fly ball in a tournament. She didn't have the opportunity. Like her brother, she now plays second base and outfield. But she could have caught one, if she'd had the chance.
I'm a little worried that next year's rec (recreational) ball season is going to be tragically boring for her.
During my absence, Smunch also had evaluations for his travel team, the Blues. The team still doesn't have enough players to field a team for tournaments, but reports were that he acquitted himself rather well, despite the heat.
(photos in this post courtesy of Scott Ryder)


So little room for photographs in a post about one's existential crisis. And there were so many beautiful pictures to be taken in Wyoming. Here is a sampling...
Old Faithful Geyser
Hot springs at Yellowstone
Even clouds are prettier here
Early morning reflection from Grassy Island, Jackson Lake
View from my tent on the last day
Sunset over the Tetons from Jackson Lake

Life Goes On

There have been so many things to write about lately. Many of them aren't appropriate fodder for a family-oriented blog, so they'll be left by the wayside. I used to have another blog where I published all the things that weren't appropriate for public consumption, but I long ago forgot the URL and the password. Too bad. It might have been well-used in the past couple of months.
Truth is, turning 40...almost 18 months ago, now...highlighted the fact that I'm not altogether happy with where I am these days. When I was a little girl, my favorite game was to play that I was lost in the woods and had to find ways to survive on my own. My family never camped. Perhaps it made this fantasy all that much more exciting. At least my dad took us hiking.

In college, I discovered there was a major called "Wildlife Biology". I was so excited, I called my mom and told her I'd figured out just what I wanted to be. She scoffed. "What are you going to do with that?" she said. I probably would have loved being a wildlife biologist, even if it meant never living in the Bay Area again and never making a whole lot of money. Maybe the politics of it all would have found me jaded and unhappy. Hard to know.

Then I left my college sweetheart to become an outdoorsy girl with an outdoorsy guy. He was outdoorsy, but didn't want the other things I wanted...marriage and a family. It took me far too long to come to grips with that.

Somewhere along the line, I lost my outdoorsy self entirely. And by the time I turned 40...a time when the brevity of life starts to weigh on some of us...I realized I had lost a huge part of myself to marriage and children and suburban housewifeness. I got ancy and restless.

Finally, I took a little break from my mid-life existential crisis and went out to find myself in the wilderness again, booking myself with a group of "solo travelers" on a sea-kayaking trip to Wyoming and leaving family behind for a week.

I chose this trip because it went somewhere I wanted to go and left at a time when I thought I could get away, nothing more meaningful than that. The idea of going with other people who were traveling solo also appealed since I wouldn't be faced with happy couples and other peoples' children. Instead, what I found, were a bunch of folks a lot like me. They were mostly women grappling with changes in their lives, adventurous and out for a therapeutically fun time.
It could not have been more beautiful. It was just the right amount of challenge and the company was great. I miss a lot of the folks I traveled with, now that I'm home. I miss them all, in fact.

Our three guides were in their early 20s and apparently having the time of their lives guiding kayak trips in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I can't say I got to know any of them super duper well, but I can tell you how grateful I am to these three.

I'm not sure how much they can understand what they're doing for so many of the folks they take out into the backcountry. For me, I got a tiny little piece of myself back, even if it was just for a week.

I took advantage of every bit of this adventure I could come by, including a little "cliff jumping" expedition than only a few folks joined in on. Me, taking a leap. Who woulda thunk? My gosh, that water was cold! Fortunately, the 300,000 mosquitoes on the shore provided ample motivation to take the plunge.

I'm not sure this trip could have been a whole lot better...at least not for someone in my situation.

My gosh, I've missed me!