Camping at Portola Redwoods State Park

Soren and Claire with their friend, the banana slug

Soren and Claire with their friend, the banana slug

I took Soren and Claire camping for a few days during the early part of the week, because I had the week off and Mom was taking Ronin to Wyoming to go to a dinosaur excavation and Yellowstone and visiting Grandpa Bruce and all kinds of other exciting things. I have been busy planning a much more complicated vacation for later on in the summer and Justin was (and still is) working a lot of hours on a project that keeps seeming to need more time and input. He couldn’t tell me if he would be able to take any time off that week or not. I wanted to do something fun with the kids who were staying with me so they wouldn’t feel left out of the exciting trip, but it was hard to figure out what to do.

Claire and Soren climbing a log during a brief stop on the first hike

Claire and Soren deciding to take the difficult way around the log blocking the trail

I didn’t finalize my plans with Claire and Soren until the day before my vacation started. We knew we wanted to go camping, but it was hot and several of the places I had thought about visiting after our camping trip in the redwoods last year were closed because of the drought. The water levels were too low in the surrounding creeks and there was no water supply for the campgrounds. I finally found this small, quiet campground with few amenities tucked away in the general vicinity of the other ones, but it hadn’t closed because it had received a grant and because it was a state park and not a county park.

Claire drawing at our campsite in the redwoods

Claire drawing at our campsite in the redwoods

Portola Redwoods State Park was lovely. It was sparsely populated and even people who had reservations were packing up and leaving because they couldn’t handle the mosquitoes. The creeks were low and murky, which may be why the mosquitoes were so plentiful. We saw quail and deer and loads of banana slugs and chipmunks. There was a nature trail with informative markers, and the kids loved it so much they wanted to hike it twice.

Short hike on the Escape Road Loop

Short hike on the Escape Road Loop

There was a Visitor Center that was not open when we got there on Monday afternoon and was not open at all on Tuesday or Wednesday. There was a welcome area that sold firewood that was also never attended. Luckily I had brought everything we needed, including local firewood. I have gotten very good at gathering camping supplies and setting out for a couple of days, and now the kids are reaching that idyllic stage where they can actually run around and play and have a wonderful time for hours and hours and all I have to do is tend to the occasional injury. I dreamed about this when we went to Mendocino, and it’s starting to come true. It does help to have a natural jungle gym of gigantic trees all around.

Soren climbing down The Ship of Strength, one of his favorite hangouts

Soren climbing down The Ship of Strength, one of his favorite hangouts and his biggest adversary

Soren had a big fall, from a fallen tree he called The Ship of Strength, but luckily he landed on his feet. He was screaming and crying and shaking when I reached him, and he couldn’t talk at all. You can’t see it in the picture, but since the tree is propped on top of another trunk, it’s about twice as high off the ground as it looks in the picture, and he fell into a little pit next to it. I asked him if he could point to where he was hurt, and he still couldn’t do anything except shake and cry. Then I asked him if he was scared or hurt, and he stopped crying for a moment, thought about it, and decided he was just scared. Since he doesn’t often listen to me about edges or heights or hot or sharp or anything, I decided it was just as well that he got scared about something.

The Ship of Strength, looking from below

The Ship of Strength, looking from below

There was a campsite full of boys next to us the first night. They were playing baseball and Claire bravely joined in their game, telling them she knew how to play (even though she didn’t, not really, but had seen people play on occasion) and she had to be shown how to hold the bat and swing, but after one or two tries she was hitting the ball pretty well some of the time and the boys were giving her tips and cheering her on. The mom at that campsite told me I was brave for going camping alone with my kids. Shortly after that Soren picked up a cyanide millipede and carried it tenderly from across the campground to show me his new pet. I didn’t realize at the time it couldn’t hurt large animals, but I suggested he watch it crawl on the ground instead.

Harpaphe haydeniana (the yellow-spotted millipede, almond-scented millipede or cyanide millipede)

Harpaphe haydeniana (the yellow-spotted millipede, almond-scented millipede or cyanide millipede) 

Soren did not let his experiences dissuade him. He spent his time running around pell-mell, jumping off of large trees or the bear box, climbing around, and picking up other insects. He got stung by a bee. He fell down a few more times, although Claire was the main person who ended up with large bandaids. His other favorite tree he named The Ship of Exercise, and it had a slide-type area at one end and bouncy branch hanging down at the other end. He and Claire would climb up the large roots at the end, slide down, run down the trunk, and dismount on the branch they called “Lifty.” That’s where Claire got her scrapes. I think it was really cute that they named the trees they were climbing on.

Soren and Claire sliding down The Ship of Exercise

Soren and Claire sliding down The Ship of Exercise 

The second day, a family from the neighborhood school joined us. The older boy is in Claire’s grade and the younger one is Soren’s age, and we’ve known them since Claire and Ronin started kindergarten. Together, the kids built racetracks for banana slugs and read to each other and climbed up logs.

Walking as a group on the Sequoia Nature Trail

Walking on the Sequoia Nature Trail – Claire is pointing out the sandstone layers on the opposite bank 

Claire loved being the guide on the nature walk with our friends on the second day. She had paid close attention the first time and wanted to read the information to them at each stop along the way. She was reading out loud sentences such as “One of the most critical components of a healthy redwood forest is rich, spongy topsoil” and would only stumble on the occasional Latin name, but she got frustrated when the three boys would race ahead to find the next marker and didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying. She would occasionally say, “But wait, I didn’t finish…” and then peter out as she realized they were already around the next bend.

Soren and his friend examining Pescadero Creek

Soren and his friend examining Pescadero Creek

I sympathized with Claire and said it’s hard to want to say something important when it seems like everyone else wants to do their own thing, and she hung back with me for a bit, holding my hand, and then joined in the race with abandon. Then she helped out more by coaching the younger friend to the last marker so he could find one first while we moms distracted the older boys. I loved the responsible and helpful, yet fun-loving side I saw of her on this trip, which sometimes gets lost in competing for space or attention or things.

Claire trying to draw a mustache on herself with a crayon

Claire trying to draw a mustache on herself with a crayon

I found the camping trip to be very peaceful and relaxing, despite the occasional trauma and mosquitoes. Getting there and setting it up wasn’t too bad. Neither was taking it down, packing it up and coming home. While I was there, I could just hang out and not feel like I should be doing a chore or working on a project, since something is always hanging over my head at home. Getting supplies ahead of time and doing laundry afterward were more difficult, and also when I came home I had less than 24 hours before we had to leave to go to Tahoe for the weekend of the 4th of July. Sadly, when I got back to cell phone range, I found out that our hotel reservation had been canceled and the town was almost entirely booked up and nobody responded to my messages until the next day, when we were supposed to leave. That is a story for another entry, though.

Claire, sitting in front of Portola's Shell Tree, 17 feet in diameter and approximately 2000 years old when it burned down in 1989

Claire, sitting in front of Portola’s Shell Tree, 17 feet in diameter and approximately 2000 years old when it burned down in 1989

Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Fathers’ Day!

I have been visiting Tilden’s Botanical Gardens lately. I took Soren there one day when Claire was off at a birthday party and Ronin was at my mom’s house, and it was lovely. Soren ran around like crazy but also stopped and looked at the plants and flowers and paused long enough at a stream to see some crayfish that were cleverly concealed among the rocks and flowing water. We saw a group of boys playing a game that involved chasing and hiding, and other people sitting on benches and enjoying the warm summer breezes. The paths meander through small meadows and over bridges and areas of dessert plants, of seaside bluffs, of redwood forests, of manzanitas. Damselflies dart about and if we take the time to slow down, we can see caterpillars and snakes and other creatures. We ‘spotted’ this little guy on a leaf this past weekend and when we made another lap a while later, a lot more leaf was gone.

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

It makes for a different kind of outing, to go with the whole family, but each person gets something out of it. Justin enjoys studying the plants. The children are hard to slow down, but I tried to give them assignments, looking for plants of different colors and different textures and different scents. I have been trying trying to encourage them to stop racing so much and pay a little more attention to their surroundings by using their senses, and I point out the rewards of noticing the small things or the things that might only be seen if it’s quiet. My mom made a lovely nature-themed scavenger hunt for the first-grade end-of-year park day, and even though Soren and I took it out with us on a walk one day, I had to guide him to observe just about everything on the list because he was running too fast.

Claire and Soren skipping down the path

Claire and Soren skipping down the path at Tilden’s Botanic Gardens

I don’t mind them running around, and I love that they get exercise, but it’s hard to teach observational skills and hard to see wildlife when I have a pack of wildebeests with me.

We found a bird's nest on a bridge, and Soren found crayfish

We found a bird’s nest on a bridge, and Soren found crayfish

Claire and Ronin designed some beautiful Fathers’ Day cards for Justin when they were in school, and Soren made him a pencil holder for his new desk, complete with his own picture and sparkly faux gemstones. I was impressed with the work they all did.

Fathers' Day Cards (Claire's on left, Ronin's on right)

Fathers’ Day Cards (Claire’s on left, Ronin’s on right)

Dear Daddy,

I love you. You are the best Dad I know. You take me places like Academy of Science. I love you so so so much. You are fun. What are you doing today? Can I go somewhere if you don’t have plans, like Chabot? Happy Fathers’ Day. You are the best ever. I love you more than any other Dad. You sometimes cook and clean for us.

Love, Claire.

Claire at the Botanic Gardens

Claire at the Botanic Gardens

Dear Daddy,

I love you. You are the best. I like when you go on walks with me. Thank you for teaching me. Happy Fathers’ Day! You are better than mom.

Love Ronin

Ronin at the Botanic Gardens

Ronin at the Botanic Gardens

I started writing this a day or two after we went on our walk, but now it’s already been a few weeks. I have been trying to finish up a lot of scheduling issues for summer vacation. I have a week off this upcoming week, and until last night didn’t know what I was going to do with it, because I have been spending so much time planning a trip next month to my cousin’s wedding and then to Canada, which involves multiple airlines, car rentals, water taxis, several hotels, and more decision-making and integrating with other people than I have had to deal with in a long time. I am pretty sure everything is going to work out now, but for a while it seemed like I was never going to find a way.

Whatever will bee, will bee

Whatever will bee, will bee

Indian Rock Path

Claire

Claire

Yes, there are other things going on. School just got out. Soren has been sick all week. I’m trying to get our summer plans ironed out. I got sick from Soren coughing on me all week. Father’s Day is tomorrow. And still, as I was thinking about finally getting another blog entry together, I realized I never posted any pictures of this really cool area in Berkeley that has GIGANTIC ROCKS sticking out of the ground right in the middle of otherwise normal-looking neighborhoods. They are not all right together, either. It’s a hilly area, so you can park on one block, climb around a gigantic boulder or two, then climb a hill (which is one block up), then see another huge rock sticking out of the ground.

Indian Rock Path

Indian Rock Path

You’ll know you’re on the right track if you see a tiny goat-trail labeled with a sign called Indian Rock Path, and the gigantic rocks also give it away. These are public parks, so people scamper all over them or just hang out, just a short ways away from nice houses with lace curtains. There are no bathrooms. Soren needed to be held back from falling over the edge of various rocks a number of times. I’m not sure I am conveying how big they really are, but I will try to include a picture of one of the larger ones.

Indian Rock Park

Indian Rock Park

Every block or two, there are more rocks like that. The children climbed all over them, but because there were no bathrooms, and because Soren seemed bent on killing himself, it was a somewhat short trip. Anyway, if you are ever in the Berkeley area and want to explore them, I would recommend them!

Soren, surviving

Soren, surviving

These rocks are apparently volcanic remnants and are popular climbing spots, and the steps were carved in Indian Rock during the Great Depression. The Bay Citizen has an interesting article about the park if you would like to learn more.

Ronin really loves to climb

Ronin really loves to climb

Soren turned 4!

Blowing out birthday candles

About to blow out birthday candles

I had a hard time planning Soren’s birthday party. For one thing, he kept getting mad and saying I wasn’t invited to his birthday. Even after I explained to him that I was the one who had to pay for it and make the reservations and drive him to it, he said he didn’t need me and he would do it all himself. I was not being singled out — he was telling other people he wouldn’t invite them, also, but I think I was the person he disinvited most frequently. In addition, he couldn’t tell me the names of any friends he wanted to come, and if I suggested people he said he didn’t want them to come. Finally, his actual birthday was on Mothers’ Day, and the weekend was supposed to be sunny and mild. I looked into reserving a picnic area at one of the parks nearby, and they were filled up at least six weeks in advance.

I got a Mother's Day bouquet from my dad

I got a Mother’s Day bouquet from my dad

Finally, when it was getting to be almost too late to do anything organized, I got an email from the bouncy house place where Claire and Ronin had their birthday last year, offering a Mothers’ Day party special. I decided to just do that, and hope for the best. I invited only 5 of Soren’s friends from preschool and Maiya and Noe, and another handful of friends that we have met through the elementary school. We have a group of friends with a perfect match of kids who are Claire and Ronin’s age and a younger sibling the same age as Soren, so it’s been a treat to be able to do things with them over the past two years. I invited them, and Claire and Ronin had some friends their own age to play with at the same time.

Soren, hot and sweaty from running around

Soren, hot and sweaty from running around

I knew that it would be hard to get people to attend on Mothers’ Day. I proposed that any moms could use it as an excuse to sit and relax for a couple of hours, or they could drop their kids off and and go pamper themselves for a while. We had a fairly decent turnout.

Soren wanted a dragon theme. He had a very specific request for a cake. He wanted a chocolate cake, with a layer of raspberry in the middle (which he ended up disliking), blue frosting, and he wanted two dragons on top fighting over a cherry. Claire and Ronin have a few dragon figurines and Soren has been playing dragon wars with them sometimes when the twins are in school. He asked Claire and Ronin if he could borrow their dragons to put on top of the cake. They said yes, but instead they each got him a dragon for a present. One of them is a glow-in-the-dark Snow Dragon that is currently perched over his bed, holding a dreamcatcher to ward off his bad dreams.

Soren's cake, with two dragons fighting over a cherry

Soren’s cake, with two dragons fighting over a cherry and smaller dragons all around

I really liked the dragon theme, and I went all-out with it. As I usually do, I requested that people not bring presents, but gave the option of a book exchange because I know that sometimes people have a hard time showing up with nothing. And then I bought a bunch of dragon books and stickers and tattoos and silly bands to give out as party favors, and I also had a handful of small figurines of dragons and knights and horses. My mom made Soren a beautiful blue shimmery cape with a dragon on the back.

The group of kids at Soren's party

The group of kids at Soren’s party

I got Soren a custom-made book. It didn’t have any pictures of him, but it was about a stolen toy that Soren helped Batman track down. Soren was the main character, and it mentioned that he was four years old and where he lived, and he also talked to Claire and Ronin in the story. All three kids loved the book, but Soren has been asking to hear it a lot. It’s nice to have a book all about you, if it’s not a tell-all or true crime novel and if you’re a kid.

Claire reading Soren his personalized book

Claire reading to Soren from his personalized book

Soren’s favorite present was a mechanized kitty named Daisy. My dad sent it a few months back for no occasion at all, and when Justin and I opened it and it promptly started meowing at us we thought it would be good to save it for Soren’s birthday. We hid it up on the top shelf of the linen closet and draped a towel over it, and still, every time we opened the closet door, we heard the whirring and grinding as it tried to climb out of its box and a series of plaintive meows. Amazingly, the kids never caught on. Every once in a while, they heard the meows, but the few times they asked about it we chalked it up to Emily being nearby.

Soren and Daisy

Soren and Daisy

Soren brought Daisy in for show and tell at preschool one day, and when I arrived to pick him up, he was outside playing in the playground and I couldn’t even see Daisy because she was surrounded by a group of enraptured girls who were petting her with the included soft brush and having her meow and stand up and purr. When we left, I heard one girl begging her daddy for one.

This cat is very interactive. And loud. I remind the kids that Daisy needs to rest sometimes, and Soren has gotten very good at turning her off when I suggest that. The reviews on Amazon are hilarious and completely accurate.

Ronin and Soren cuddling first thing in the morning on May 11th

Ronin and Soren cuddling first thing in the morning on Soren’s birthday

Soren had his 4-year-old checkup about a week after his birthday. At the appointment, the receptionist handed us the forms for “Information about your 5-6 year old” and I had to correct her. Later on, the nurse gave us a pamphlet about how to prepare for kindergarten. I told her it wouldn’t be until after his next year’s appointment. Soren is a big boy. He is now wearing most of the same clothes that Ronin is wearing, including shirts, underwear, shorts, and socks. He can’t wear the same pants because Ronin’s are a bit long for him, although in a pinch he can roll them up. He weighs the same amount as Ronin, although he’s 4 inches shorter.  What this means is that I am not able to use Ronin’s clothes as hand-me-downs any more, especially since the kinds of pants that fit Ronin are not the same that fit Soren. However, Soren is able to wear all of Ronin’s shirts that he doesn’t like. Both of the boys have very strong opinions about clothes, but even though I try my best to get clothes I think they’ll like, they sometimes don’t like things I get. Luckily they don’t dislike the same kinds of things. The camouflage shirt that Soren wore at his party was a shirt of Ronin’s that he refused to wear.

Measurements:

Weight: 44 pounds (94th percentile)

Height: 3 feet 5 3/4 inches (81st percentile)

BMI for age: 94th percentile

His doctor discussed his measurements with me, because I’ve never had a kid whose height was a lower percentile than the weight, and whose BMI was so high. I asked about this. He said that since our meals have a majority of fruits and vegetables, and since our children get a lot of exercise, and since they don’t eat much junk food or fast food, he is not concerned. He said Soren is big and sturdy, and he thinks he will just continue to grow tall and slender out a bit. Everyone agrees he is thriving and bright and imaginative.

Twirling around the Maypole in Tilden

Claire with flowers

Claire with flowers

Earlier this month we went with Mom to a large, grassy meadow in Tilden Park to take part in the Maypole dance and festivities. We took small kites, a picnic lunch, a blanket, and got there just as some Morris Dancers were finishing up their Maypole dance and taking down their pole, so we had some time until the the next one. We ran around with the kites and took a little walk through some trails.

Stream in Tilden

Stream in Tilden

My foot has been feeling better in general, but by the end of the short walk it was hurting enough that I couldn’t take part in the Maypole dance. I lay down on the blanket and watched the dancers weave in and out, in and out with the ribbons. My mom and the kids and a bunch of other people all participated while they sang simple songs.

Soren with flowers in his hair, obviously enjoying it

Soren with flowers in his hair, obviously enjoying it

While we’d been out on our walk, Mom had stayed behind and started making flower crowns for the kids. She made some extras, and gave them to other people as well. They were really lovely. The pole itself was quite beautiful, also.

Maypole

Maypole

There were other children around, and they played tag and hide-and-seek. One of the girls didn’t want Soren to play, because she didn’t want him to touch her. She said, “He’s drooling! I don’t want him to get my dress wet!” Claire wanted me to keep him on the picnic blanket with me, but I encouraged her to support Soren.

Sometime later that week, Soren was trying to play with a group of five- and six-year-olds at a playground and once again a girl yelled that she didn’t want him to touch her. He’s not being rough, just playing tag in the normal way. It’s hard for him at times to be the same size as kids who are a couple of years older, while he acts younger than the kids he wants to hang out with. I still can’t always trust him to go into public bathrooms by himself all the time (the last time I did that, he got stuck because he couldn’t open the door to come out), but if I take him in with me at places like the elementary school, the girls there feel like I’m bringing a boy into the girls’ bathroom. He’s in kind of an awkward in between stage, but luckily he seems to take a lot of this in stride.

Ronin holding some flowers

Ronin holding some flowers

The Maypole took a long time to weave completely, and due to the uneven nature of the people around the pole, it was not perfectly symmetrical, but I was very impressed with how it turned out. I thought it looked beautiful. Everyone danced and drummed, and the kids are still singing some of the songs they sang around the pole. We were out there for a long time. Claire ended up with a little sunburn on her shoulders and was shocked that it hurt. She claimed she couldn’t lift her arms to do her homework, but she seemed to have no trouble lifting them to eat, so it probably wasn’t quite as bad as she thought it was. After I put a little lotion on and told her it would feel better in the morning, she said it was fine.

Maypole dance

Maypole dance

The dance culminated with everyone leaping over a fire.  This took me and Justin off guard, but the kids jumped over the fire before we had time to move, and then it went out. They were able to share the exciting tale with their friends the next day.

Claire, with a different flowery headdress

Claire, shoulders nearly bare, with flowers in her hair, stares over there

I have really nice memories of dancing around a Maypole when I was a kid, and taking part in all kinds of diverse activities. Justin was asking me what in particular appealed to me (as a child) about this type of event, and I decided it was the combination of being able to run around and play or dance or listen to music and also taking part in an activity that was open to both kids and adults. I also had really fond memories of playing kick the can and sardines with the kids and grown-ups, and softball games with my dad, and square-dancing, and anything where it seemed like we kids were full and welcome participants in the mixed-ages activity. This was different from things that were geared specifically toward kids, although I’m sure I liked those too.

The finished Maypole

The finished Maypole

Coming up– can you believe Soren turned four years old since my last blog entry?

Santa Barbara and Disneyland and the Coast Starlight Train!

Claire in the observation car

Claire in the observation car

It was difficult to coordinate all the various people and dates and methods of transportation. I’m not sure I can even explain it all succinctly. It was Spring Break. Justin and Ronin drove down to Santa Barbara and picked us up at the end of the day at the train station. Meanwhile, my mom and I and Claire and Soren took the Coast Starlight Train down. My mom stayed with Omie and the rest of us stayed in the hotel suite we normally use over the next few days while we enjoyed Santa Barbara.

Claire reading, Mom looking out the window in the comfortable and roomy train seats

Claire reading next to Mom in the comfortable and roomy train seats

At the end of our Santa Barbara trip, I drove my mom and the three kids to Disneyland, stopping to visit our relative Millie along the way. Justin drove his mom in her car. We had rooms next to each other at the same hotel, just a block away from Disneyland. That same night, Dinah and Manuel flew down to meet us. We spent two full days in Disneyland, with our party of nine people (!) and then Justin and Ronin took the train directly back from Anaheim to home and I drove Mom and Claire and Soren back, Omie drove herself back to Santa Barbara, and Dinah and Manuel flew back. It worked out amazingly well, and I’m sure it will be a trip that the children will remember forever.

Claire in the observation car

Claire in the observation car

THE TRAIN RIDE.  The whole train thing came about just to add to the interesting experience. I remember looking into train tickets when the twins were very young, and finding the cost prohibitive, especially when added on to renting a car there, but for the four of us and one-way tickets to Santa Barbara, it was less than $150. The seats were spacious (if only airlines could be this comfortable!) and reclined nicely, and had foot rests and also leg rests so that little kids wouldn’t have their feet dangling in the air the whole time. We could walk around, go to the observation car, make reservations in the dining car to eat, get snacks or beverages from the snack car, or play games at tables. We took a tour of one of the historic cars, where only the sleeper car passengers had access, and saw the movie theater in the lower area. It’s a really nice way to travel, except that it takes a lot longer and we can’t stop and run around at playgrounds.

Claire and Soren watching "Frozen" on my Kindle

Claire and Soren, with headphones, watching “Frozen” on my Kindle

I had loaded a bunch of movies and games on my Kindle, but surprisingly enough it did not occupy them as much as I had hoped. They got restless and started asking “When are we going to get there?” before we’d gone too far.

Three happy kids

Three happy kids

SANTA BARBARA. Our visit in Santa Barbara was fairly low-key. My mom hadn’t been there since Dinah was in college, a long time ago, so I was thinking she might like to go see some of the areas I’ve mentioned in past posts, like the Natural History Museum, or the Botanical Gardens, but we ended up mostly enjoying the warm weather and playing at the beach and in Omie’s lush back yard. We went to the beach two days in a row. It is always surprising to me that these same kids who shriek “Too cold!” if shower water is just one degree below what they’re expecting can play in cold ocean water for hours.

Soren in the sea

Soren in the sea

Soren using Omie's cane to shoot sneaker waves and jet skis

Soren using Omie’s cane to shoot sneaker waves and jet skis

We saw a pod of dolphins swim by, close to shore. The children played jump rope with a length of kelp. We found lots of interesting rocks and shells.

Justin swinging Soren around

Justin swinging Soren around

One morning we drove up into the hills to look at Justin’s childhood home, and to see the Chumash Painted Cave near there. It is fun to imagine young Justin exploring the hills and creeks and boulders around there, and although he talks about not having a lot of other kids nearby when he was young, I still think he was very fortunate to have so much territory and freedom to explore.

Chumash Painted Cave

Chumash Painted Cave

There is a gate in front of the painted cave to prevent further damage to the site, since there is graffiti dating from present times to soon after the designs themselves were made, and the original artwork is presumed to date from the 1600’s. There is speculation that some of the symbols may relate to the solar eclipse of November 24, 1677.

Ronin holding a finch egg

Ronin holding a finch egg

At Omie’s house, the children were delighted and amazed by the size of the eggs in the bird cages. They handled them delicately and even made a tiny nest for one out of a fuzzy brown pipe cleaner. In case you were wondering, there is a deliberate attempt to reign in the amount of bird multiplication going on in the finch cages. There is frequently a good-natured bartering of pets going on every time we see Omie, with Justin trying to give Phantom to her and Omie trying to get us to take some birds and offering to take Emily instead, and in the end all of our pets stay in their own homes.

Egg in nest, with pencil for scale

Egg in nest, with pencil for scale

The children played with the toys in Omie’s house and picked endless amounts of fruit from her trees in order to make juice. They played hide and seek and other games, and it was so nice for me to just sit in a lawn chair in the back yard and watch them all run around. This is not something I could have done a year or two ago. Plus, despite a pre-Disney steroid injection in my heel, I needed to stay off my feet as much as possible because I was worried about all of the walking I’d be doing.

Claire in the foreground, Ronin trying to be camouflaged

Claire in the foreground, Ronin trying to be camouflaged

Ronin using the Chinese yo-yo as a fishing pole

Ronin turning a Chinese yo-yo into a fishing pole

On the way to Anaheim, as I mentioned, we stopped by to visit Millie, who lives in the greater Los Angeles area. I used to visit her and my grandfather Bryan (my dad’s dad) occasionally when I was little, on our way down to Mexico. All of my memories of Disneyland are entwined with visits to Millie and Bryan’s place in Manhattan Beach, where they lived at the time, and then usually a road trip with my parents down the Baja Peninsula. Millie was my grandfather’s fourth (I’m pretty sure) wife, and they had a son together who is my age, so I have a half-uncle who is about the same age as I am. He is active enough politically that he is mentioned in national news, and his picture was on Millie’s wall with numerous presidents and vice-presidents and other dignitaries. Millie pointed out a picture of Bill Clinton next to my uncle and asked my kids if they knew who that was. Ronin answered, “William Howard Taft?” It was so funny, but then at the same time it made us all realize that what seems so recent to us is just another page in the history books for our children. Clinton is just as much a historical fact for Ronin as is Taft.

Millie and the rest of my family

Millie and the rest of my family

Millie had graciously set up a picnic lunch for us with some sandwiches and fruit, and the kids ran around in the grassy area outside of her home while we caught up. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other.  As we were leaving, Claire and Ronin started playing a word guessing game with each other and Claire said her word started with D and Ronin said, “DeSoto?” It was the word Claire was thinking of!

I thought it was really funny that Millie’s impression of Ronin included a first guess of a president as Taft and a first guess of a D word as DeSoto, and how it might seem like he was only learning things from a century ago. However, they recently read The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp, in which a DeSoto figured prominently, and the book is now one of their favorites and DeSoto is their DeFault secret password or code word now. In fact, during the finale of the Read-a-Thon at school they were supposed to bring a favorite book to school to share, and Claire brought that one and she was paired up in a team with a third-grader who was not able to read it, so she read the book to him.

DISNEYLAND.  For some reason, I thought our hotel had a kitchenette instead of a mini-fridge, so we stopped at a grocery store before checking in and I bought stuff to make meals on the go for the kids since that is easier than trying to eat out with them. I had booked it, but I guess I didn’t remember or realize all of the details. We did end up eating out at Denny’s one day on the way back from Disneyland and it was a struggle just to keep the kids in the general vicinity of their seats. We ordered pizza to be delivered the other nights, and I had a bin of snacks and fruit in the room and milk in the fridge.

Our group, going into The Happiest Place on Earth

Our group, going into The Happiest Place on Earth

My mom and Omie shared a family suite and Justin and I and the kids shared another, right next door. The suites were not big, but there was a door separating one bedroom from the other bedroom. It is really nice that our mothers get along well enough that we can travel like this. For the two mornings we went to Disneyland, we met Dinah and Manuel near the entrance right as it was opening. Manuel, though his work, has perks that allow him and a few guests free passes to Disneyland as well as discounts to the concessions. He doesn’t get enough to allow a party of nine to get in two days in a row, however, and he was able to gather more passes from co-workers so that we all gained entrance both days without cost. We were all so impressed with his generosity and resourcefulness, and he and Dinah were both familiar enough with the park that they could go ahead and schedule us for rides so we could make the most of our time.

Justin, Soren, Omie at Disneyland

Justin, Soren, Omie at Disneyland

We went on almost all of the exciting and big rides. Soren was tall enough to go on everything except the Matterhorn. We all went on Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, and Grizzly River Run in California Adventure Park. I sat next to Soren and stabilized his head during some of the faster rides and whispered to him during some of the scarier parts. As we were getting to the exit on Space Mountain, some nervous teenage girls waiting to get on pointed at Soren in awe. I asked him if he’d been scared, and he said “No! I want to go again!” I told the girls that he said that and Soren curled up against me and whimpered, “Mom, I don’t think I want to go again.”

Ronin exploring a castle in Disneyland

Ronin exploring a castle in Disneyland

My mom went on all of these rides, too, which was pretty impressive also, since she is not fond of fast or spinny rides. Omie seems to like them quite a bit, and her greatest challenge was maneuvering the wheelchair down small aisles into special loading areas. She doesn’t normally use a wheelchair, but it seemed like a good idea because of the amount of walking involved in a couple of days at Disneyland and the fact that the pushing crowds and uneven surfaces would make it more difficult to rely on her cane. The combination of the handicap access, Dinah and Manuel’s behind-the-scenes knowledge and skills, and the free passes, all made the trip a lot more magical for me. Justin and I have a hard time enjoying crowded theme parks, and although it’s so wonderful to see our children light up with excitement, it’s equally difficult trying to keep them all together and entertained and in line (yes, we still had to wait, some times more than others). We were so grateful that Dinah and Manuel came down to share their time and tickets with us.

Justin and Soren taking a break at a Disneyland castle

Justin and Soren taking a break at a Disneyland castle

Since I was last at Disneyland, they added another theme park next door to it called California Adventure. We went on a couple of rides and ate lunch there one day. One neat thing about it was that one of the rides there, Soarin’ Over California, was a ride that Manuel helped to create. At Disneyland, there were new rides since I was there last time, and some old favorites like the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.

By around 4:30 PM each day, we hit the point of exhaustion and were ready to leave the park. One of my friends had told me it was a good idea to leave in the middle of the day and go back to the hotel for a rest break and have lunch or lounge around in the pool and regain some stamina so we could go back and stay up for the fireworks, but I couldn’t imagine it. We didn’t even tell the kids that it was open late or that fireworks happened nightly. Justin and I were probably the least able to handle the schedule. The grandparents looked more energetic than we did. My foot was hurting enough by the end of a day of walking that I had a hard time making it back to the hotel. Dinah and Manuel looked fresh and relaxed and ready for a night on the town. The kids were restless, but could have kept going if we let them; we all would have just paid for it with nightmares that night, and generally more arguments and whines and tears.

Ronin in line in Tomorrowland

Ronin in line in Tomorrowland

I think the trip was a resounding success, and when I first started planning this I never dreamed that it could come together so perfectly. I’m sure this will be one of those happy childhood memories that will stick around for good, and I’m glad so many people in our family were able to take part in it.

 

Claire won first prize in the science fair!

She could not stop smiling

She could not stop smiling

Claire did an experiment last September that she entered into the science fair at school this past week. She titled it “Flies Away!” and her main question was what was the best way to get rid of fruit flies. She listed her variables as vinegar, vinegar with a drop of soap, wine, and wine with a drop of soap. I had her do this because with all the fruit we keep out on the counter, we sometimes get a lot of fruit flies in the house, and I wanted her to help me find the best fruit fly trap.

Tabulating the results and writing the conclusions

Tabulating the results and writing the conclusions

Anyway, we took pictures at the time and saved the notes, and in the past month we discussed with both Claire and Ronin if they would want to expend the energy to actually enter the science fair, since we were going to go on a trip for Spring Break and be gone for two weekends in a row, and it’s hard enough to do each week’s homework, let alone a whole other project on top of that. They both said yes.

Around the same time last year that Claire did her fruit fly project, Ronin and Justin discussed a very complicated and lengthy project involving observing guppy traits through multiple generations. However, despite having some nice bright yellow guppies and some fancy dark blue/black guppies, they ended up having to scrap the whole idea because the babies kept getting all mixed up and it was impossible to keep track of which babies belonged to which mating pairs. Project Guppy was too complex.

Last weekend Claire spent a good part of the day compiling her results, writing the hypothesis, results, conclusion, drawing a table, and pasting everything on her board. Ronin thought about starting from scratch with a completely new project and doing everything in one day, but after an hour or so of brainstorming ideas, decided he didn’t want to do it after all.

Claire's Project

Claire’s Project

The results were strongly in favor of wine with a drop of soap. After four days, that container had 14 fruit flies, while the other containers just had 0, 1, or 2 flies. I helped Claire look up why this was, and we watched a couple of videos about surface tension and how soap reduces it, making it easier for the flies to sink into the liquid. When her board was on display, I heard a number of adults walk by it and comment that they learned something very useful from it.

The night before the science fair, Claire started talking out loud to herself about how it wouldn’t matter too much if she didn’t win a ribbon, and that what was important was that she had fun doing the project and that she learned a lot and she got to practice doing something that would help her in the future. She added that she wasn’t nervous about talking to the judges, because she did that last year, and she should just be herself. I asked her if someone had asked her to say that, and she said she came up with it on her own. I thought it was really cool that she was doing some positive self-talk before the show.

Selected for display at the regional science fair!

Selected for display at the regional science fair!

Each school can send up to three projects to the regional science fair, which is hosted at a nearby science museum. Claire’s was selected for that honor. It will be on display for two days, culminating in an evening reception and a medal. This one is non-competitive, and serves to highlight the best examples of projects from the area.