22 posts categorized "East Bay Fun"

July 03, 2010

Click, click

Din_2010_176_T  I generally despise family photos.  I worry about slouching, not sucking in my stomach, the kids not smiling enough, and Peter doing that fake "I hate to smile" thing. I realized late last year as I was trying to decide whether or not to do 'official' two year shots for Nicholas, that we had not taken any real family photos in ages (other than quick snaps by a strangers in front of Hoover Dam with a so-so outcome).

Ages turned out to be almost two years.  We  had a semi-professional photographer take shots of us on the beach one morning in Chincoteague in June of 2008, and despite the fact that we did the 'white t-shirt look alike' business, many of them were quite good.  One shot of the girls was particularly darling, and it reminded me recently that since the kids are growing like weeds, well, no time like the present.

I toyed with having the photos taken in San Ramon by an absolutely wonderful photographer.  She has a gorgeous garden for a backdrop, and my only problem was not being decisive enough.  I probably should have gone to her last winter, but I was in a funk about losing more baby weight and I let that distract me.  

Then I saw these photos online, and knew I might have a chance of getting absolutely the family photos I craved.  Not with Jessica, but with a divinely talented photographer who frequently visits the Annapolis area, close by the home of the Salty Dog Crew.  I made mention of this to Shannon (Dr. Salty Dog) who happened to be in touch with Jana.  Jana wrote to me, and it turned out that she would be in town the week that we arrived. We couldn't hope for better timing and grabbed the opportunity.

In some respects, it couldn't have been crazier.  Not only was I throwing baby-fat, belly-sucking caution to the wind, but we were barely rested from our crazy cross-country charade.  My hair could end up being a frizz fest, the girls might argue the entire time, Pete might not smile (actually a trait that works well in his job, just not great for fun family photos), and Nicholas could have a complete and utter "I need a nap" meltdown.  So, we made sure to book early in the morning, I coffeed myself up (in order to deal with any arguing), Peter practiced smiling whilst muttering under his breath at morning traffic, and the hair magically worked out.

Now we have photos that made me laugh, cry and want to book another sitting.  Jana works wonders with nothing more than two cameras and a knowledge of perfect backdrops in downtown Annapolis.  It probably didn't hurt that our assistant also knew the kids (thanks, Jenn P.!), and even a bit of knowledge of the personalities being photographed is amazingly helpful.   Jenn and Jana both knew that Nicholas would be awestruck if the fire truck that whizzed by us towards the end of the shoot could stop for a minute. Jenn had a chat with the driver, and moments later, fire truck stalker Nicholas and his family had the perfect shot in front of "Firetruck, firetruck!".

There were so many incredible shots that it will be very hard to decide on a family photo book.  We will have not one, but two, as you can well imagine.  One for home, and one for Peter's home away from home.  I can't say his departure for a year didn't play into our decision to invest in gorgeous photographs. In fact, it increased our desire to capture more precious family moments on film.  Many thanks to Jana Bannan, and her assistant for the day, Jenn, for a morning and photographs that are burned into our minds and hearts forever.  

* Please note that the above photo was taken by Jana Bannan.  The same holds true for all linked photos in this entry.

June 02, 2010

Iron Horse Trail

I know what you are thinking...another park? Don't you leave soon? Please...it's only Wednesday.  We don't depart until Sunday, and I can guarantee you we still have plenty of time to explore.  What's that you say?  How can you do that while saying your good-byes, finishing out the school year, attending concerts, and the like?

IMG_4652 It's quite simple if the good-byes are centered around more adventures.  Today's was rather simple, and in an area which I haven't discussed much, but certainly deserves some attention:  the Iron Horse Trail.  As the name might imply, this used to be part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Instead of being abandoned and neglected, it was turned into a trail that is used by bikers, walkers, strollers, skaters, runners, and scooterers galore.

IMG_4654 Not long after I arrived in the East Bay, I joined a walking group that would meet several times a week.  At least one of those jaunts was to be a fast-paced walk (and possible jog) along the trail.  The trail markers guarantee an easy way to keep track of one's distance while it trips and traipses through downtown Danville and the backyards of those that live nearby, and kept us on track for our minimum 3 mile round-trip. 

I can only describe a few of the many facets of the trail, as I have not had the experience of doing more than bits and pieces in Danville and San Ramon.  Personally, I have favored the lengths in Danville, but only due to the massive amounts of shade that the trees in the area provide.  Other parts of the trail in San Ramon, especially those that back to our current* abode, tend to be treeless and blazing hot under the summer sun.  Still, it offers one a wide swath of walking space, and for some, possibly an easy commute to and from work or school.

IMG_4657 Since we have been doing more outings with the Nature Group and fewer with the walking group (both run by the same fantastic leader, Linda), we have not walked along the downtown Danville portion of the trail in some time.  Today as a final playdate of sorts, Linda, her son, Cy, and Nicholas and I walked, Skuuted and scootered down the trail from the entrance of the Peet's parking lot (for lack of a better name) to the train car that sits behind the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.

IMG_4659 The boys played on the 'train', peeked inside and pretended to drive the wagons out front.  We didn't have a chance to investigate the museum, as there were too many rocks, sticks and the like to examine around the entrance.  We also were not so much in a museum mood as we were in a 'digging and rolling in the dirt' kind of mood. 

It's not technically a park, but the trail has become a play area of sorts for Nicholas. He first met many of his current playgroup friends on the path, despite (at the time) still being such a wee one who spent most of his time in the peanut shell.  Later on, he graduated to the Ergo or the BOB, depending on his mood. I am sure if we were here even another few months, he could be found Skuuting and then biking along the trail. 

IMG_4671 I know we will have hiking trails and the like in Virginia, but we will be hard-pressed to find a similar trail so close to home.  However, I have to admit that I have been a bit jealous of those who merely need to look out the window to see the trail.   While we have enjoyed the location of our home, if we were to live in the area again, I can't say we wouldn't want to live closer to this amazing path.  

*Kelsey playing in our 'backyard' which backs up to part of the San Ramon section of the trail.

June 01, 2010

Whee!

IMG_2053-1 Nicholas's expression says it all:  we are feeling a bit footloose and fancy-free.  Peter cleaned up the leftover dregs at the house last night..(you know, those little items that seem to escape the first five look-sees) and met with the property manager today.  The walk-through seemed to go well and there was a handshake, a return of keys and garage door openers and the final farewell.  We are now completely finished with the house and can truly relax for the next few days.

While I am sure we will be anxious to get settled once we arrive in Virginia, there is something...no...a lot... to be said for living with fewer items.  We have not finished our de-cluttering and reorganizing and those two items are still on my task list for next year.  Theoretically, we could be headed out again in 14 short months and I would love a move as stress-free as this one.  

After Peter returned home (definition: wherever we are living at the moment)  we headed back to the Art & Wind Festival to celebrate. Kelsey had arrived home from Camporee late this morning.  She was safe, sound and exhausted, but still had plenty of energy to look for snow cones and cotton candy.  The kids had fun on the bouncy rides, we enjoyed a bit of  very tasty fair fare, and Nicholas was able to watch (hold onto your hats) the ladder being put away on the really super-big and awesome Truck #34. 

IMG_1933 Speaking of "fair fare," kudos to Kristen of the McNabb Clan!  She correctly guessed that the items in question in my Santa Cruz post were none other than deep-fried Twinkies.  Nothing like that to make the funnel cake covered with goopy strawberry sauce seem high on the ol' ANDI scale.  Apparently she has not tried them either, so sadly, still not a clue as to what they might taste like...and perhaps that is a mystery best left unsolved?

May 31, 2010

And they're off...

IMG_2025 IMG_4623 IMG_4634 With a giant belch of exhaust, the truck heaved to the left...to the right...back to the left...then righted itself again and managed to finally pull forward.  All 15,000 pounds (give or take) of our 'stuff' was headed east.  Odd for a change that our household goods will only be crossing rivers and going through woods, save for 250 pounds.  The only items shipped over any large body of water will be those that Peter chooses to send by UAB to you-know-where.

I have to say this must be the least stressful move yet.  I finally let go of the notion that we have to do everything ourselves, and hired painters and house cleaners.  Brilliance in action and well worth the money.  We were able to focus on the move, not fret about matching colors or whether the fridge was clean enough, and Peter (bless him) uttered the magic words when the maids left yesterday,

"I am hiring a maid/housecleaning team to come to the house next year on a biweekly basis."

It just doesn't get more romantic than that.

Now don't get your panties in a wad or think he's gone off the deep end, but with three kids, a cat, maybe a dog (yes, it's time, a shelter visit is in order..), he decided that's a necessity.  You know what? After parceling out jobs during this move, I have realized that doing it all on a regular basis (much less just during a move) is a worry I don't want.  I think a little help may just aid me with holding onto my sanity over the next year...along with exercise (really need a good Yoga class), learning how to sew (and knit),  photography lessons, that occasional glass of vino, and, of course, my dear, sweet kiddos and all of their activities.

IMG_4643 IMG_4647 Now before all of that happens, we have to finish up life here.  In case you are wondering, we are sort of pretending everything is status quo.  Kelsey went to Camporee* this weekend and I will assume is having an absolute blast.  When we aren't trying to Freecycle remaining items (anyone need a stainless steel wastebasket for their office?), we are enjoying local events like the San Ramon Farmers Market (The Green Lantern's grilled artichokes are not to be missed) and the San Ramon Art and Wind** Festival.  We are hitting favorite eateries for the last time and I will have one final jaunt into the city this week.  It's hard to imagine that this time next week we will be on our way...

Oh, that reminds me: the itinerary.  Some have asked, and here is the (extremely) tentative plan:

  • 6 June, depart San Ramon and stop in/around Barstow area
  • 7 June, drive to Flagstaff
  • 8 June, visit the world's largest hole in the ground (just couldn't resist...) and head to New Mexico
  • 9 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night in Oklahoma City
  • 10 -12 June, an 'extended' stay in Memphis (technically Germantown) to hang with the 'rents and eat the world's best BBQ!
  • 12 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night somewhere on the TN/VA border
  • 13 June, arrive in Edgewater (home of Baby Nate!), and celebrate a certain someone's birthday...

IMG_4648IMG_4649So, until next Sunday,  we are happily ensconced in our second room in ye Old Residence Inn.  We received a hearty welcome from the staff upon check-in and enjoy the fact that Caitlin can walk to and from school (and the library!) for one more week.  Nicholas is sad to miss the carpool with "John John" (Cait's carpool buddy), but we still have the frantic race to get Kelsey to school...at least some things don't change.

*End of the year Girl Scout Camping trip...s'mores, tents, hiking, swimming in lakes, campfires, and scary stories galore. 

** Nicholas decided that the firetrucks were THE reason for the festival.  They had the ladder extended all the way...if there had been an "ananance", too,  we might never have seen the rest of the goings-on...

May 23, 2010

Santa Cruz

IMG_1921 IMG_1927 Last Saturday, as I was hanging over the boardwalk on in Santa Cruz on the Sky Glider, I once again lamented our imminent departure.  I realize I must sound like a broken record with regard to the "there is so much to do here" business, but darn it (again), there is still just too much to do! 

The trip to Santa Cruz last weekend was a reward trip for Kelsey's Brownie Troop.  They earned a tidy sum selling cookies and although some funds are being donated, we wanted them to enjoy a bit of their earnings.  They chose a field trip to the Boardwalk, and we apparently planned it for a gorgeously sunny, but not too hot Saturday in May. 

IMG_4507 IMG_4508 It had its ups and downs (don't they all), but I felt by the end of the day, it was safe to categorize the trip as a success.  The girls romped and picnicked on the beach, ran into each other at the bumper cars, rode roller coasters, and in general, had a great time.  There were a few tears here and there (should I say they all seemed to be on my daughter's part?) but nothing like a few Dippin Dots (apparently no longer the "Ice Cream of the Future") to bandage any wounds. 

IMG_4525 I didn't buy the all-access pass (wrist bracelet), but managed to take in two rides, one of which was the Giant Dipper.  It was a hard, noisy roller coaster ride, but so much fun.  I couldn't bring myself to purchase the obligatory picture of me at one particularly harsh turn, but just imagine my hair on end, mouth pasted open in a frightened grin, and fists gripping the handlebars for dear life...you get the picture.  Oh, and note the day it opened?  I had to ride it after I saw that, considering 86th anniversary was only two days away.

Now I was good and avoided most of the Boardwalk fare, but the funnel cakes just called to me.  I skipped the ice cream and gloppy strawberries, and ordered the "original" which is the cake sprinkled with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Even that was a bit much, but thankfully the girls were willing to help me finish it off.

IMG_1932 After walking up and down the Boardwalk and investigating it fairly seriously, I felt it was like others that we have been to in the past with the exception of the items in the photograph.  Your name* in lights (or bold-face type) in my next blog post if you correctly guess the item's name.  I was a bit frightened by the idea, but have no doubt some folks love it as a special Boardwalk treat.

The day went by much more quickly than we anticipated, and soon we were headed home.  The girls seemed to have the time of their lives, and although I was not sure what to expect, I was pretty thrilled with the outcome.  If you are in the Santa Cruz area, and have the chance, it's definitely not a bad way to spend a sunny Saturday.

As it turns out, the Boardwalk was not much closer to home than other parts of Santa Cruz. Our drive was easily 90 minutes one way, and the GPS veered us slightly off track once, making the trip a tiny bit longer.  Happily, there was parking just across the street from the boardwalk, only $11 and an easy walk if you felt like dropping off the lunch bags prior to starting the rides.  As with other areas in Northern California, light jackets are always helpful, even on sunny days, as well as hats and sunscreen.  If you or your traveling companions opt to romp in the sand or water, you might consider a change of clothes and most definitely a towel.

*Sadly, Shannon and Peter are not eligible due to the email photo they received that afternoon explaining said items.  It was too shocking not too share!

May 20, 2010

Redwoods Revisited

Here's the problem with this state:  there are just too darn many places to visit.  Two years is not enough time to do it all.  I am happy to say that along with many of the 'biggies' (Tahoe, Muir Woods & Yosemite), we have also visited many other parks and areas that might be lesser-known.  The second issue I have with there being so much to do in so little time?

One visit is never enough.

While some may feel one visit to a local attraction (say, Muir Woods) is enough, I often feel that I need at least two or three visits to really get a feel for the place and soak in all that it has to offer.  In fact, we may feel required to 'join' some of the organizations, as we feel we will be there quite frequently.  Suffice it to say, I could not say no to our second meet-up at the Redwoods today.  Even more exciting?  I technically got part of the way there without using the GPS (after I was GPS-ed, of course).

I thought it was odd that it had directed me take 680 vs. Crow Canyon to 580, but it is an easier drive in some respects.  I realized that I have been so many places lately, that I wasn't sure that landmarks I saw were actually from our recent visit to the Redwoods (remember, we carpooled and my friend drove) or from a visit to another Oakland site.  After the GPS told me twice that the park was in the middle of someone's front lawn, I pulled over, cleared my mind, really thought about it, quit fretting about being lost and late, and realized I knew where I was.  Once I hit the next main road, I turned left and there was a tiny sign indicating that the park was straight ahead.

IMG_4559 IMG_4561 IMG_4562

We missed most of our playtime with his buddy, Cy, due to our late arrival, but not with the rest of the group.  We had a long, leisurely walk through trees and enjoyed stopping at the water-go (again of the creek sort).  We reveled in the wildflowers, decided trucks were not meant for water-gos, and found more walking sticks* than Nicholas knew what to do with. After a good 20 minutes, we met up with the rest of the group at Trail's End. The boys ran around, the parents chatted, and we eventually headed back for some playground time. 

IMG_4567 IMG_4566 I've said it before and I'll say it again: this truly is the place to be on a warm day.  It was fairly breezy when we arrived, but the sun was blazing down by the time we left.  There easily had to be a 10-15 degree difference between the shadier woods, and the playground in the middle of the sunny field.  Despite the fact that we had to get going at some point, it was very hard to gather our lunch bags and hats and be on our way.  Each time we leave a park or museum, I wonder if it's the last time we will visit before we depart for good.  Then again, it's only a 20 minute drive and the movers don't come until next Thursday....

Note:  Like many places in Northern CA, you can be fanning yourself in the sun then freezing in the shade.  Don't forget your light jacket, snack, water, sunscreen and hats.  I don't think the walk from the parking lot is more than a mile round-trip, but if your toddler tires easily, an Ergo or stroller wouldn't hurt.

May 19, 2010

Chez Panisse

IMG_1946 Thirty days ago, Peter ran frantically into the house.  He and Kelsey had just come home from her First Communion Retreat and he was anything but calm.  He was muttering and sputtering, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  I started fearing the worst, and finally he came up with,

"I swear, 30 days before, I swear, I was up at 6 a.m.!"

Huh?

"I swear, I went to Open Table, I clicked on May 17, a table for two, it was ONLY 6 A.M. and it was fully booked! How could this* be?!"

I was taken aback.  I knew this anniversary celebration would be important, given his upcoming deployment, but never guessed in my wildest dreams that this was in the offing.  Yes, I had mentioned it now and again, but I didn't expect him to remember that there was one place I really wanted to try.  A local establishment just down the road, a homey yet rustically chic kitchen known for its gastronomic delights. 

  IMG_1957 IMG_4550 Peter was trying desperately to get reservations for Chez Panisse.

I hadn't said anything in months, and with everything else that was going on, it was now the last thing in my mind...but not his.  He was so worried that I would be upset if we went on May 18, instead of May 17.  I couldn't get over the fact that we might actually enter the restaurant with reservations for one of the famed seating times. 

He planned a new attack.  He set his alarm for 11:59 p.m., kept Open Table up, and clicked on the 6:00 p.m. slot the minute the clock struck midnight.  Success! 

Four weeks later and several hours later, the sitter was here,  the kids had their salad and pasta, and we headed up to Berkeley.  Despite hitting traffic, we arrived in good time, and snagged a parking space only yards away just as the meter struck 6 p.m.   The restaurant blended well with the neighborhood, a simple brown building dressed primarily in greenery.  We stepped through the door and began our journey to slow food heaven.

IMG_1952IMG_1953I cannot say that I am a food critic of any sort, but one would have to be hard-pressed to have a single complaint about the meal.  The halibut tartare melted in our mouths.  The garlic soup was so light, but the touch of the poached egg and toasted bread stretched it close to a meal.  The quail was tender and juicy, petite, yet filling and perfectly paired with the fava beans and greens.

The slow food was just as it should be...prepared from local products with such care, spread out so as to not overwhelm, and completed with a just a hint of dessert (oh, the strawberries...).  Our waiter, Howie, was available when necessary, but unobtrusive and exceedingly skilled with wine pairings.  It truly was an evening to remember. 

Oh, sweetie, thank you for such an incredible treat.  Next year, same place, same time?  I'm only half-kidding....

Note: Please ignore the grainy photos, there's only so much an iPhone can do...

*It is a little known fact, but Chez Panisse does not give reservations more than 30 days ahead of time.  It is probably a more widely known fact that they book up quickly.  Thus the only way to ensure a time at the restaurant is to book the moment the clock strikes midnight.  You could try and call the next day....but I wouldn't wait that long!

May 18, 2010

Sulphur Creek

I wasn't kidding. Movers and packers be darned, I WILL conquer the parks of Northern California.  I have a voluntarily compost-turning, dirt-piling, nature-loving little boy who adores playing in the rain and lives for his outdoor playgroup.

IMG_1935 IMG_1937 The fact that it was merely drizzling today was not enough to keep us away from the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward.  The morning was supposed to be an outing, "Toddler Time" for our Nature Playgroup, but we could not attend due to Nicholas's swim lesson.   Linda, our intrepid group leader, knew we had swimming and would miss the main part of the meet-up. She was kind enough to offer that we could visit and picnic after the Toddler Time class.  She mentioned that there were many animals on hand to be seen, gardens, and (obviously) a water-go of the creek sort.

The girls accompanied us as today happened to be a teacher work day.  We could not sleep in too much this morning due to the lessons and the need to pack up for our lunch with Linda and Cy.  Despite the fact that they stayed up way too late watching Julie and Julia last night (true Foreign Service kids, right?), Cait managed to wake up on her own at 6:45 a.m. and Kelsey followed not long after.  We hurried through breakfast, sped off to swim lessons, and by 10 a.m. were headed to the Nature Center.

IMG_1938 IMG_1939 Having never been to Hayward nor the Nature Center, I had no idea what to expect.  It was hidden back on a residential street merely minutes from 580.  After turning in, we easily found parking (two spacious lots), and tromped down the stairs in our venture to locate our friends. 

The first treat was the footbridge over the creek.  Nothing fascinates Nicholas like a water-go, and I completely understand.  There is something so beautifully mesmerizing about the flowing of the water, and the green of the surrounding foliage is just brilliant.  It didn't take much of a reminder to get Nicholas headed down the bridge and through the animal rehabilitation area into the the Discovery Center.

IMG_1941 We missed the class, but no the opportunity to "touch and feel, not steal" the snake skins on display.  Nicholas was enthralled by the turtles paddling about in the aquarium, and enjoyed 'talking' with them until the class was  over.

IMG_1944 As with other nature centers in the area, the Discovery Center is generally closed on Mondays, with the exception of Toddler Time classes.  There was nothing more to investigate inside, so we returned to the great outdoors to meet the wildlife.  

I think the coyotes had to be our favorite.  I am not sure how many I have seen in the past, but I know viewing (and talking to) them today was a first for Nicholas.  A fox was the immediate neighbor, though he was having a bit of quiet time.  He was up in a perch, sound asleep with his tail wrapped tightly around his burnished fur.  Nicholas insisted he had a blanket, and we decided with the warmth of the fur, he did look as snug as a bug in a rug. 

A deer ran down from the hills, and proceeded to prance around the edge of the property.  I am sure we were startling him, and we just watched from a distance.  Lunch time came quickly, and as with all of the parks, there were no shortages of places to stop and nosh.  The rains became more apparent while we were eating, and we opted for a quick hike under the lush canopy of trees on the hillside that surrounded the center.  The deer had come back, and the boys just couldn't get enough of him.

IMG_1943 The climb gave us a better view, and we were within spitting distance at times.  The deer would stop for a moment or two, and the boys were just fascinated.  The girls certainly found his antics entertaining, but the boys are still so young and absorbing so much, so quickly.  Such a treat to see the looks on their faces and the excitement in their young voices.

It seemed like we had just arrived, but by this time it was nearly noon and the rain was getting harder.  This pleased Nicholas to no end, but the girls were getting antsy to return home.  I knew a nap could be in the offing soon, and we wrapped up our visit with a final look at the rooster, ducks and magpies.  Another look in the creek, and we were back in the car having enjoyed yet another taste of the outdoor beauty that is Northern California.

May 16, 2010

Sunol

IMG_4503 Wednesday afternoon arrived, and while looking at my calendar, I realized Friday was a giant blank.  I suppose this is generally good news, but given our shrinking window of time here, I don't advocate spending too much time on the homefront.  There is still so much too explore and I can't justify keeping Little Guy cooped up during the day while I sort through baubles and knick-knacks.  Yes, I am always looking for a reason to procrastinate the inevitable.

I wrote to my all-park and museum-knowing friend, Linda, to see if she might have any ideas and/or get the little guys together.  She mentioned several: Lake Anza, Sunol and the Chabot Science Center.  We ended up deciding on Sunol, perhaps knowing it was going to be a sunny, good for throwing rocks in the creek sort of day.

IMG_4490 IMG_4493 IMG_4494 IMG_4501

 It's a fairly quick drive to the area, though one does hit the windy roads going in and out of the park.  We parked in the general parking lot, and were surrounded by local school children on a field trip.  The sun was shining brightly, and we immediately headed down to the creek.

Linda noted that the water was rather low in the creek, which while maybe not ideal for nature, gave us a larger playground that morning.  Instead of having to stand on the sloping banks, we were able to sit on the higher parts of the creek bed while Nicholas and Cy ran around, threw rocks (we aren't at the skipping level yet) and enjoyed being shoeless and fancy-free.

  IMG_4495 IMG_4496 We even opted to have our picnic in the creek bed, and the boys ate and played for another hour.  Given Nicholas's eating habits (eat/play/eat/play), this worked out for the best.  It was truly a gorgeous day, and while hats and glasses were necessary while in the direct sunlight, it was not blazing hot. The tall, stately trees provided a splendid respite on an as needed basis.

Overall rating?  Have a curious, loves to throw rocks, and stomp in the creek type of toddler?  This is your place!  Just don't forget your picnic lunch, water, sun gear, change of clothes (for those water exploring types), and a towel.  Water shoes, too, if you might be exploring in the creek for extended periods.

May 12, 2010

OMCA!

Which stands for the Oakland Museum of California.  We had a rather impromptu visit on Sunday, after our best-laid plans to take a Mother's Day hike in Las Trampas were derailed by rain.

I know this doesn't usually stop us, but we have hiked muddy areas of Las Trampas before, and while Nicholas would adore it, it would be a lot more 'stopping to pull hiking boots out of ground every five minutes while gloppy mud tries to hold onto shoe and massive sucking sounds emanate from said ground' than hiking. For that reason, and that reason only, we decided to find a semi-indoor activity.

I recently heard of the Oakland Museum of California, though I constantly screwed up the name and kept calling it the California Museum of Oakland.  Really not much of a difference, and Peter had no idea what I was talking about, so really a moot point.  It's a museum (I know, shocking!) in Oakland about California (honestly!).  I read about the 2 year, $58 million renovation, and decided it was worth seeing that afternoon. 

Apparently the rest of California read the very same article and had the same reaction, as the line was out the door when we arrived.  We contemplated buying a membership, but since they only charge for ages 9 and above, we would have to go several times to make it worth it.  As soon as the kids found a place to play (waiting areas with rocks for piling get two thumbs up), the line started moving quickly.  I freaked out and thought perhaps OMCA was part of the reciprocity deal with the science centers and museums, but no such luck.  This turned out to be a good thing, since my Lindsay Wildlife Card (and free pass) were sitting safely in a drawer at home. 

We ended up only having an hour, and decided to start with the history hall.  We were stopped by a Welcome to California sign, and I took the first of many bad pictures.  I will blame it on the banning of flash photos and poor lighting.  I  completely understand why such rules are necessary, but it doesn't change the fact that the pictures* are terrible.  However, not a good enough reason for me to not torture my readers with several!

After we took the requisite photo with the sign, we hit the map of the world.  There had been an assortment of red dot stickers on the table and each person/family was supposed to put one on the map to indicate where they came from.  As usual, we went with Iceland (we did move from there....).  Sadly, all of the stickers appeared to have been used.  I was happy to find an extra dangling on the wall above the map (sorry if someone really came from northern Greenland) and plopped it down around Reykjavik.

The dad-like guy of the family standing next to us wondered where I found a sticker, and I mentioned it was just lolling about on the wall, so I put it to better use.  He then gave me my favorite quote of the day (maybe the weekend),

"You Icelanders certainly are resourceful!"

I explained the situation, and the father agreed with me that "where you hail from" could encompass many different areas for many people.  We helped him find another wayward sticker, and moved on to view the rest of the History section.

To say the area was jam-packed with information is an understatement.  I won't detail every little thing, as I think it is definitely worth seeing and don't want to spoil any surprises.  I will say that active toddlers may not find it as enchanting as older children.  

Nicholas enjoyed the museum (especially the airplane seats), but it is not a "please touch" children's museum by any stretch of the imagination.  While there were certain items that could be touched, most were "eyes only". He didn't have a hard time, but I would have completely understood if he had.  Realistically, this is probably more for the 5 and up set, though I would plan on interspersing outdoor breaks if we were there for a longer visit.

I thought we dawdled quite a bit, but even so managed to depart the history area within an hour.  We checked on the Science section (yes, it really is closed until 2012 due to renovations) and had a brief tour of the gardens before departing.

Overall review?  Best for older kids, and I would allot at least 2-3 hours.  We didn't get to view the art collection, and possible that could be more extensive than I imagine.  Once the science section reopens, I would think this would be at least half a day or maybe something you revisit.  If we had any plans to be here when the science hall opens again,  I would consider joining.  I think not only would we enjoy a few visits, but out of town folks might like to take a look, too.

*Don't worry, pictures will be coming soon.  Our internet is barely chugging along these days, so all I could do to eke out this post.  Oh, and *technically* I am supposed to be tidying the garage right now so that the movers doing the pre-pack out survey tomorrow don't freak and think we are trying to move the entire state.  I exaggerate, though, it really isn't that bad.  I have de-cluttered quite a bit over the years, so I am hoping we will be pleasantly surprised by their estimate.

May 10, 2010

Every time

IMG_4472 IMG_4473  we think we have seen everything there is to see, California pulls another rabbit out of her hat.  Friday's itinerary included a much, much too short trip to Santa Cruz.  We journeyed not for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but to investigate the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and nearby Natural Bridges State Beach.

We headed off a bit later than we intended, but Nicholas was full of energy and needed to romp while I double-checked my list.  Having missed the part about the beach at first, I had to make a quick run back into the house for several beach towels.  We didn't need them, but only for lack of time.  Had we been there into the afternoon, I have no doubt one we would have needed both...as you can imagine, no shortage of water or sand!

IMG_4474I had heard that Santa Cruz was "about an hour".  IF there is no traffic and you are headed to the center of town, this is correct.  However, coming from our are of the East Bay, I would think one should allot at least 1.5 hours for the one way trip.  Not only did I not realize it was a bit longer of a journey, but didn't count on 8 miles of windy road.  At least this time a sign actually warned us!

Despite the longer journey, this area is not something to be missed.  I can't yet account for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but even if you just stopped to look at the view from the back deck of the Marine Center....breath-taking.  Nicholas took one look and shouted, "Ocean, ocean, ocean..."  and that was it for miles and miles.  Nothing but dark blue to pitch black water swirling around with one smallish (50 footer?) boat trailing a whale along the coast.  We were too far away to see much, but caught the occasional spray from its blow-hole.

I should back-track to our arrival.  We got there a bit late, however, still in time to catch the outside tour with our group.  We missed the activities inside (seeing marine life up close and personal), however Nicholas very much enjoyed the outside tour.  We had a guide named Julie and we were her first tour group ever.  To her credit, she was extremely enthusiastic and carried her guide book like a bible. If you have ever had even one marine biology course, though, it may seem a bit geared towards those who have never seen a fish other than in an aquarium.

IMG_4476 She was very good with the kids, talked mostly to them and pointed out everything she could that might be of interest to us.  After viewing the whale from the deck, we were invited to a back research area.  No photos of the research subjects were allowed*, but I managed to catch a few of a desolate, sandy cove, Younger Lagoon,  that abutted the pier next to the dolphin pools.  According to the guide, photos were not allowed as two of the dolphins were given to them by the Navy and were under strict supervision. Sounds a little fishy to me (especially after I found a you tube video of said animals) but rules are rules, right?

We finished up the tour under the skeleton of a giant blue whale that had washed up on shore years earlier and was painstakingly preserved for display.  The kids were allowed the special treat of walking underneath the bones and realized just how big the whale had been.  The tour ended here, and the organizer of our group gave us a new meet-up point for our trip to the beach.

IMG_4481 We parked off-site to save a few dollars, but I might cough them up in the future.  I ended up having to take three bags and Nicholas up a long road to the picnic area, and then down a steep path to the beach.  Not terrible, but a bit tricky when you barely have one hand to hold with your active toddler. 

IMG_1861I didn't check the temperature, but it must have been in the high 70's and perfect weather for wading in tide pools or just building sand castles.  After ambling (running for Nicholas) down the path, we arrived at the beach.  We were in perfect view of the bridges, and needed only go halfway to the water to find a 'water-go' which may have been Moore Creek flowing down through the meadows (or my geography is completely off and just a large tide pool).  Either way, he was thrilled and soon pants-less after getting his pant legs completely soaked (despite me rolling them up).  After being admonished  by another beach comber for not carrying extra clothes on my person (what, I didn't have enough stuff?), he survived putting the damp pants back on once we finished up our brief beach tour. 

IMG_1859 IMG_1866 If we had more time, we could easily go back and spend a full day here.  We would revisit the Marine Center, have another picnic lunch, and spend the afternoon playing in the sand and water.  The town itself looked worthy of exploration, but we ran out of time on Friday.  Here's hoping we have a bit of time after the boardwalk and beach on Saturday, though that is more of an official field trip. Now, the only question:  what else can we squeeze in during our remaining 27 days in the East Bay?

May 04, 2010

Tilden Park

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What a gem.  Tucked away in the hills of Berkeley, this park that houses a farm, a nature area, an environmental education center, and acres of gorgeous wilderness will encompass you.  It will be difficult, at best, to remember that a bustling metropolis is but a few miles away.

I have heard about Tilden Park many times over the past two years.  "You've been, haven't you?!" is a common refrain.  I would shamefacedly admit that I hadn't, but offer up "It's on our list!".  I am glad to announce that the list has become shorter by yet one more item.

 
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Dad and I thought this local park trip would be ideal for today.  We went to Nicholas's swim lesson, picked up lunch, and headed to Berkeley. Once we turned off the main road in Orinda, we started climbing higher and higher by way of a rather windy road.  Nicholas was completely unfazed by this, perhaps as he was completely and inexplicably upset by the fact that we could not yet pick up Kelsey from school.  Nothing comforted him until we saw a rather large water-go (a lake, in this case).  This fascinated him right out of his misery, and was back to his bouncy, happy self by the time we reached the park area.  By the "park" area, I actually mean the picnic and playground area that is located near the entrance to the Nature Area and Little Farm.

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It actually took quite a bit of driving to get there.  I was sure everything was closer than it appeared on the map, and the reality was quite different.  We drove around so many curves in the road, that I was convinced we had missed a sign somewhere.  Just as we were going to turn around, we finally happened on park area, and breathed a sigh of relief.  We parked near picnic benches, and began decided lunch was first on the agenda.

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The picnic was extremely fast.  Barely a moment to set down our sandwich rolls, and pop open the tab on my seltzer.  Nicholas tore into his sandwich, gulped down his falafel, and practically galloped to the playground.  There was a large sand pit, and Nicholas was not disappointed as we had indeed remembered the sand toys, to include the orange bulldozer.  He played happily, shared his toys, and packed up willingly when we mentioned the farm.

 
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The Little Farm is part of the Nature Area (no, we didn't have a hope of fully exploring) and is set into a hillside surrounded by a bit of a forest.   Nicholas enjoyed greeting each set of animals (roosters, pigs, goats, cows and sheep), and fed them with dropped scraps of lettuce and celery from previous visitors. The heat of the sun pounding down on the farm was relieved by a short hike around the edge of the sheep pens in the shade of the cooling trees. Comparatively speaking, it was a short visit, but we left feeling content that our time was well-spent.

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I know it is not likely, but if we have the time, we would return in a heartbeat.  There are children's activities galore, a newly renovated hiking path that is not to be missed, and the sense that one is days, not miles from the hustle and bustle of city life. The parks in Northern California never cease to amaze us.

May 02, 2010

Lunch with Guy

Guy is Grandpa, at least for the moment in this house.  Grandpa arrived Thursday afternoon in order to attend Kelsey's First Communion, and Nicholas immediately dubbed him, "Guy."  Guy is quite the term of endearment, used for the person who drives his toy trucks, for Kelsey's swimming teacher (real name: Brian), for the garbage man (on a pedestal in Nicholas's eyes), and the person who steers the fire truck that seems to whizz past us almost daily.  It's quite the catchall term, and apparently much easier to say than Grandpa.

While much of our work for this special weekend was completed early on, I had a terrible time deciding on a gift.  Once I figured out something meaningful, but not overwhelming, I needed to find a store that might offer such an item.  I was really hoping to find an independently owned shop that might have a larger selection of unique jewelry or books that might not be highlighted in larger bookstores.  Nothing off the wall, but I love supporting local businesses, and an extra bonus if they are remotely free-trade and/or eco-friendly. 

I heard of a local store, Sagrada, in Oakland, and could tell from their web-site that they had a large religious/spiritual selection.   Having not been to Oakland too frequently (other than the zoo, science center and airport), I figured a trip to the store would give me a chance to explore a bit more.  We decided to go Friday morning, and headed west on a gorgeously clear and sunny day.  Ideally, we would have taken the Bart, but opted to drive as we had to be at school for pick-up by 2:30 p.m.

IMG_3318 IMG_3320 IMG_3323 The shop is located on Telegraph in the Temescal/Telegraph neighborhood.  Parking was a bit tricky, but we found a spot and walked half a block to the store.  It was everything I had hoped for and more...spiritual, but in many directions.  While they had a healthy section for the celebration of First Communions, it could be said there was something for everyone no matter what their belief.  I found the key gift for Kelsey and a few cards for other cousins also making their First Communion.  Dad and Nicholas also explored, finding a crayon table (key for the younger set) in their small, but well-stocked children's section, and a water-go (in this case, a fountain).

IMG_1820 IMG_1814 Dad made a few purchases, and we realized we had just enough time for a sit-down lunch.  Our only problem was deciding where to go. Everything along the block whet our appetites, and after a bit of discussion, we settled on Ethiopian at Asmara.  It was a simple, but charming restaurant.  We were promptly seated and took entirely too long to decide on a meal.  We ended up sharing a beef entree and vegetarian combo of red lentils, yellow lentils, mustard greens and veggies.  It was served with generous amounts of injera bread and salad. 

IMG_3328 IMG_3329 The lentils were smooth, but flavorful and the mustard greens were finely chopped and just a bit spicy.  I also opted for steamed milk with honey, the perfect accompaniment for my meal.  Nicholas asked for a fork at first, but once we explained that they weren't necessary, he dove in and alternated between eating with his fingers and utilizing the bread.  Dad also got into the spirit of things, and we before long the tray was nearly empty.

We couldn't stay for dessert, as the school day was almost over, and we still had rummage sale stuff drop-off (a whole car load!), choir practice (and extra practice for Cait), as well as our first cook-out of the year on the to do list.  I really wished we had more time to explore, though, as it was a neighborhood full of unique shops and eateries that I now regret not finding sooner.

April 23, 2010

Liar, Liar*!

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Well, he didn't really say that, but the implication was there.  I told Peter there was a park with Redwoods only 30 or so minutes from our house, and he didn't believe me.  Nope, he tried to convince me that the only park with those gorgeous, tall, stately (and oh, so, shady) trees was Muir Woods.  Recently my friend Linda mentioned a more local Redwood park, and I realized this was the place I had heard about so long ago...but had been told didn't exist.

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Now don't get me wrong.  We LOVE Muir Woods.  We can all fit inside the hollow tree for family photos, and one feels millions of miles away from...everything.  They have trails for every type of hiker, the trees, of course, recycling bins, compost bins, the snacks sold are wholesome, and with one exception, I just feel one with nature being there.  Corny, but true. The Redwoods are just awe-inspiring.

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What is not awe-inspiring?  The drive.  One has to go along a twisty, windy road for what seems like days, after it has taken almost an hour just to get to that road.  It is eerily reminiscent of the way leading in and out of Colonia Tovar **(a little German village nestled in the mountain top just outside of Caracas).  We prayed non-stop the entire time we hugged the side of the road as the one lane (for two cars) wound around the side of the mountain, going up and back down. This type of driving (and, more to the point, road) did not bode well for those with weak constitutions.

It's not hard then, to recall the ride home after we visited Colonia Tovar with Auntie Shannon.  Caitlin was about two and had been very excited about the day.  Colonia Tovar is famous for its strawberries, and we were so excited to taste them.  Caitlin ate loved them, and  ate berry after berry.  We were in strawberry heaven until the long, twisty ride home. We stopped counting after 6 emergency stops (with little to no parking area) and Cait hasn't eaten a strawberry since.

So guess what happens when you have children (yes, Kelsey, too, on occasion) with you who are still prone to motion-sickness (and like to exacerbate it by reading novels in the car while on the uber curvy road to Muir Woods)?

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Lots and lots of low grumbles, small moans, and then finally, just as you have passed the last scenic overlook with room to park the car for an emergency stop...the actual request to pull over and, well, you can figure it out.  We haven't made it to Muir Woods once without someone getting sick, and can't even consider taking the shuttle there (from a random parking area) for that reason.  When my friend Linda (yes, the lady who can get anywhere in Northern CA without a GPS) suggested we have a nature outing at the nearby Redwood Park, we signed on that dotted line immediately.

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Now, if only I had just Googled this place last summer, we would have been in heaven on those terribly hot and sticky days.  Instead, we rushed over there today, hurrying to try and fit it in and everything else on our pre-move to do list.  Gorgeous.  Utterly gorgeous.

It's in Oakland, just off a long, twisty road, but not nearly as long as the road to Muir Woods, and minus the drive to get to the road to Muir Woods.  We parked inside the main gate, and headed toward the playground to wait for the rest of the group...it wasn't that hot out, but cooled off incredibly once under the shade of the trees.

After a bit of playtime, and meeting up with other folks, we continued our walk.  We ambled along the trail, stopping to see banana slugs, water-gos (creeks), fields of wildflowers, picnic tables (they are very big with the 2 year old set), and random empty shelters that have benches and windows.  They create hours of entertainment, believe it or not.

We only had to depart as we finally ran out of food.  Nicholas even consumed the emergency fruit bar, which led us to a cranky state of affairs by the time we were back in the car.  Luckily for Nicholas, Cy was able to share a bit of his extra snacks, and all was well with the world. It was a very happy Earth Day, and, yes, we carpooled.

*Pronounced in the manner of Carol Kane in The Princess Bride.

**There is now an actual web-site for Colonia Tovar!  When we lived there, the best directions we could find were:  Leave Caracas, drive outside the city, turn right at the McDonald's, make a right turn once you get to the middle of the little town in the valley, and then stay on that road until you go up the mountain and back down into the town.  Oh, and it's about a 1.5 hour trip, one way.

April 18, 2010

Judy & Stink

IMG_4309 IMG_4310 IMG_4311 are two of Kelsey's favorite characters from the Judy Moody & Stink series.  If you haven't heard of them, they are brother and sister...and that's really all I know.  I haven't had a chance to read the series yet, but Kelsey is pretty much enthralled.

IMG_1738 Which means when she found out that the author, Megan McDonald, was going to be at the library on Saturday, she was ecstatic. Right about now, you must be thinking to yourself, "Oh, my, what a thoughtful and caring mother.  She learned of the author's intention to stop by months ago, and even went so far as to let her daughter know about the essay* contest, so that she could enter.  Who knows, maybe Kelsey was even one of the 14 winners?"

No, I am the worst kind of mother:  I found out from Kelsey** on Friday (yes, Friday) that the event would take place yesterday, and had no clue about the essay contest. Note to self:  put name on email list for every event at the library, despite the fact that we are leaving in 6 weeks.  Will improve self-esteem, if nothing else.

So they went, they saw, they conquered the line after the hour long reading, which included each essay winner reading his or her winning entry.  By the way, apparently Nicholas was not thrilled with this idea.  I think Peter only had to leave the reading 6 times (or only told me about said 6).  Nicholas loves books, thinks he can read, loves anyone to read to him, but does not sit still for speeches about reading...which I completely understand. 

Now, you might think, "Peter took him out?  Where were YOU?  Not only didn't you know about the event, you slacked off on attending, too?" 

Yep, I did.  I was busy.  Decided to have myself a girls day out, and left Pete alone with the kids and had a spa day!

HA! HA! HA! As if....

No, I spent the day learning how to camp.  Yes, I have camped before (heard that snicker, too), and yes, I could do it without training.  However, if you are a Girl Scout co-leader and intend to go camping with your troop, you must attend a GS specific camp training session...all 8 hours of it. 

Now that must sound snide, but it really wasn't that bad.  If nothing else, it boosted my confidence about camping, and gave me several ideas that I just hadn't thought about before.  I went with the troop's other co-leader and another parent volunteer, so it was not as though I felt 'alone' attending the training.  We even had a chance to sneak in a bit of a field trip on the way home.

My friend, the parent volunteer, has a favorite Japanese grocery store in San Jose and really wanted to stop by.  I am always up for new food experiences, and since the three of us had carpooled (and she was the driver), we headed over the minute training was finished. 

 IMG_1733 It was gorgeousIMG_1736IMG_1737! Completely non-descript on the outside, but the decorations, the space, the lighting...and the simplicity.  The bakery/sweet shop (not sure if that is exactly the right term...) was to our immediate right as we entered.  The sweets were stunning...incredibly prepared and almost too perfect to eat.  I didn't end up purchasing anything, not one tiny morsel, as I simply couldn't choose...maybe next time?

Then we hit the main part of the store.  Everything from rice cookers to fish to what seemed like hundreds of kinds of sesame oil.  Pickled...everything!  I picked up a few items, a sushi plate, pickled ginger, a pickled radish salad, bean paste desserts and green noodles (all natural Ramen).  Then I noticed the restaurant...

Apparently it is a widely known and loved noodle house.  My opinion?  One giant yum.  Seriously, this was Ramen like I have never had before.  Thick, soft noodles in a slightly salty soy broth.  A tender slice of chicken and a pink and green slice of ...radish?  I was so enthralled I forgot to verify the ingredients (hard to do while slurping it up as fast as you can without burning the tongue, but it's so so good...) and also forgot the picture.  Next time, I promise!

Oh, yes, six weeks or no six weeks, the Ramen House (well, my name for it) is calling, and we have already made plans to go back.  If you are in the San Jose area, and have a hankering, I doubt you will be disappointed...we weren't and think others feel the same way!

* for those of you wondering, I have bombarded them with information about the FSYF contest.  However, they are both nervous about entering contests (gee, where do they get THAT from?), so we shall see.  

**This makes us sound like we don't go to the library. I am just usually too busy with the Little Guy when we go to notice much else.  We are there quite frequently, and in fact, each girl has approximately 10-20 books from said library in her room at any given point.  I can only say thank goodness for email reminders about due dates! 

April 02, 2010

A Belly Full of Jellies

IMG_4209IMG_4225Jelly Bellies, that is.  A tour of the Jelly Belly factory was part of Kelsey's class study of Economics.  It was really quite simple:  watch many hungry parents (okay, one mama in particular) race to the Jelly Belly Factory store (when said tour was concluded) in order to spend a tidy sum on, oh, we'll call it "Easter" candy.   Never mind that several of the bags were purported to be filled with flavors that only she likes...

  IMG_4222 IMG_4224 Yeah, I was ridiculous.  Let's start at the beginning though, which was an hour long ride to the Factory, half of which I spent convinced I was going to get a Fastrak ticket.  There was one bridge to cross on the way, and everyone mentioned using the carpool lanes.  So, I did.  Then I realized it said Carpools AND Fastrak.  I then figured it was for carpools only if one has Fastrak.  We do, but it was in Peter's Tahoe, which had been parked for hours in the Financial District.

Guess what?  It really is just for carpools, and I guess they take really awesome photos of each car and decide if the tiny heads in the back seat are real or fake, and then ticket (or not) appropriately.  I have just never heard of any carpool lane allowing you to avoid the payment of a toll entirely...pay it faster with something like Fastrak, but never avoid it.  Live and learn! 

We arrived at the factory in good time (yes, on 1 Jelly Belly Lane) and had no problems parking.  Note to anyone interested in going:  go early!  We arrived at 9:02 a.m. and the parking lot was nearly empty.  By the time we left at 10:38 a.m., it was packed to the gills. 

We headed inside, snapped a few photos (sorry, about your nose President Reagan), and began the tour almost immediately.  I also learned the best way to ensure there won't be a long wait is to decide to use the restroom.  If there is a wait, it immediately dissipates the minute you walk away.  Thankfully, there was some snafu with the number of Jelly Belly hats distributed, and we didn't miss a thing.

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We went up the candy corn staircase, rounded the bend, skipped the optional photo with Mr. Jelly Belly, and enjoyed a taste of the Honey Bean Jelly Belly...pure YUM if you love honey (and I do).  The tour itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and probably would be shorter if there weren't have oodles of kids pressing their noses to look at the (sadly, not operating) Jelly Belly making machines.  Unfortunately, we went on an inventory day, which meant that the factory was empty save for thousands of pounds of Jelly Belly ingredients and the equipment required to produce them.

Don't worry, JB must have known this could happen, and had monitors with videos of the entire process set up at several key points around the factory.  The tour took place in a  glassed-in hallway that looked down over the floor, and there was no shortage of good views of monitors or actual candy-making equipment.  Nor was there a shortage of samples throughout the tour...banana (okay).and ..juicy pear (super YUM).

IMG_1655 IMG_4220 I am not sure if we spent more time in the factory or the store.  I realized with Kelsey being distracted by the notion of possibly buying the world's largest jawbreaker, I had plenty of time to shop for the kids Easter baskets. If questioned, who wouldn't believe that I was just buying a few little treats my hosts next week, the fabulous Salty Dog crew?  

Now lest you think I have lost my senses and suddenly endorse eating oodles of Jelly Bellies, most of which are made with an ingredient I detest, well...I make exceptions.  I do love many of the flavors, can't stand normal jelly beans, and since we aren't huge candy eaters, I think a bit now and again won't hurt too much.  The funny thing?  Just as I was bemoaning how all of the flavors were only made with corn syrup, I found this mix. Oh, yes, I had to test it...and the flavors passed with flying colors.  Definitely on my list.

I was ever so grateful to have those to snack on for the ride back...one vegetarian potsticker and a mug of coffee do not a breakfast (or "brefits", as Nicholas says) make.  Trip to the Jelly Belly factory $44.19 plus cost of gas.  The fun had with Kelsey (and, yes, getting Easter goodies)?  Priceless.

March 18, 2010

Singing in the Rain

Scan0001 IMG_4072-1 was the title of Cait's concert this past weekend with the Danville Girls Chorus.  There were fewer photo ops this time, except of a certain little guy, but their voices were as stunning and passion-filled as during the Christmas concert.

Cait tried out for a solo (insert happy dance here), but didn't make it. However, she tried.  She has so much more confidence as a singer, and while I think the church choir helped, DGC has really enforced that, as she puts it so eloquently, "Singing is just my thing".  Mind you, this is when we discuss if she has thought about sports (other than speed-reading) at all.  Nope, not gonna happen unless it's purely for fun. 

We wised up this time, and Peter didn't just drop Caitlin off, but parked, and found a spot in line. Even at 8:45 a.m., he was chair #7.  Keep in mind, each chair could represent any number of people.  Kelsey, Nicholas and I took a little more time to get ready (postponing Nicholas's boredom during the wait), and remembered both the bouquet of flowers, and a cookie for our place-holder.

IMG_4068   IMG_4077 IMG_4079 What can I say?  It was fabulous.  Unfortunately, no video or audio clips (we are such the rule followers), but we should have a DVD from them in the next month or so.  Now, what I don't understand...when an organization goes out of there way to provide you with a free DVD which allows you to enjoy the show...why do people insist on crowding the back of the church with video cameras blazing away?   Sigh.

Another sigh as we are really going to miss this chorus next year.   Cait has really matured, takes the practices extremely seriously, and received an excellent rating.  We are so content with her progress, and with the nature of the group, that I am really sad to leave.  My only hope is that we find a choir equally as stimulating in our next location.  I have found a few online, but hopefully can also get recommendations from the current director.

Now that would imply, of course, that she is interested in joining another chorus.  My guess?  You betcha. I have a feeling there won't ever be another audition like last year's, and yet, despite the frustrations, it was such a crucial turning point for her.  Our heartiest congrats Little C, for a truly fantastically musical year!

January 26, 2010

Reciprocity

is a fabulously easy and, apparently, inexpensive way to get oneself through the doors of many museums and science centers throughout the country without paying (an additional) dime.  We first visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in November of 2008 at the recommendation of a friend.

It is not only a museum, but also an animal hospital for injured and orphaned animals, as well as a permanent home for animals that are then considered "non-releasable". We were impressed and decided to join, figuring we would be frequent visitors.  We didn't go as often as we would have liked, but as mentioned in the above post, there are benefits to be reaped not only there, but at the Oakland Zoo and many other not-so-local science centers.

IMG_3715 IMG_3716 IMG_3717 In trying to 'do it all', we never actually made it back (at all) until this past Sunday.  It was the beginning of Week 4 sans Pete (NOT that I am complaining...) and we needed something different to do.  It has been pouring rain the past week, and I just couldn't channel my inner Icelander.  We are always receiving emails about the Museum, and realized a lot could have changed in the past year.  We decided it would make for a fun and relaxing Sunday afternoon (did I mention no school AGAIN today?), and twenty minutes later I was debating a new membership.

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Why?  Why would we join a museum for only 6 months (oh, wait, 5 months).  Perhaps because after adding it up, I realized that by joining Lindsay in the fall of 2008 for the small price of $55 (for a family membership), we ended up saving almost $130 over the course of the following year.  How?  We visited the Oakland Zoo three times, the Maryland Science Center,  the Springfield Science Museum, and, of course, the Wildlife center.  Admission to every place (with exception of the initial fee for Lindsay) was free with our card.

IMG_3726 The Wildlife Museum and the other science centers are members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers.  With a membership to one of the affiliated centers, you have a passport of sorts.  You will not want to leave home without it, as even many international science centers are members.  This can add up to quite a bit of savings when traveling.  You won't get free parking, and forget about the discount at the gift shop (which isn't really the point of the visit).  However, the savings on the entrance fees alone is generally enough to warrant a membership somewhere near home.

I won't do a play by play of the day (or the website), but the kids had a great time.  We found a room we missed the last time (the Discovery Center) geared towards the younger set, complete with live walking sticks and enjoyed by all.  Nicholas was thrilled to pet a rabbit, and the kids entered the naming contest for the new ground squirrel.  Nicholas finished writing his entry, crumpled it up, announced it was trash (he meant recycling, but can't enunciate that just yet), and promptly tried to stuff it in the collection box.  I am sure the folks will appreciate his rather abstract entry, if they are fluent in toddler scribble.

If in the area, I think it is well worth it to stop in.  In addition to the indoor activities, there is a playground attached for further energy release.  They also host birthday parties, offer camps in the summer, and special fun mornings for the preschool set during the school year.

IMG_3727After finishing up and catching a quick late lunch/early dinner in Walnut Creek, we headed home to finish up a project we had started the night before.  Sort of a surprise of sorts for a special someone, so will just show a few pics and hopefully not completely ruin the treat (if you will).  Hmm, what could it be?

 
IMG_3731

November 15, 2009

GOOOOOAAAAL!

Though somewhat sadly, not in our favor.  In fact, all but one of the twelve goals scored were for the other team.  Luckily, that didn't prevent Kelsey or her friends from having a good time, or setting loftier standards for the next game.

Tonight was the first game of her indoor soccer league season.  She enjoyed soccer so much, that she wanted to continue with indoor soccer once the regular outdoor league ended.  A friend's father is coaching (so Pete is free to record the games), and even more of her school friends are on the team, since the age rules are more relaxed.

Tonight's game started with a brief practice, as the girls normally do not meet during the week: the league regulations require only weekly games.  Fine for those who have played before, but at least one was new to soccer and a little practice never hurt anyone.  Peter dropped Kelsey off early, and picked us up after their pre-game practice ended to save Nicholas a bit of boredom.* 

We arrived just as they were about to start, and I noticed Kelsey donning a second soccer shirt.  They were blue tonight, and the extra shirt could only mean one thing:  she had been chosen/requested to be goalie.

I was a bit nervous.  Goals are big swaths of land to cover, and really, she could have paid a bit more attention when playing outdoor soccer. During the outdoor season, her team spent so much time on their offensive moves, that she was often surprised when they ended up near the goal, and missed more than she caught.  Not to worry tonight, as the opposing team (which, if they are under 8, I am Santa Claus), spent a good portion of their time near/around/in our goal. She didn't have time to look at the scoreboard, much less daydream.  She was on top of things, but still missed a few, and the other team scored 6 goals in the first half, something that would have most crying in their boots.

Not me, and definitely not Kelsey.  She had at least one awesome save (if not more) for every goal they scored.  Her team didn't let go, and fought the fight until the end.  They ended the game just as red-faced and sweaty as the other team, and just as cheerfully (though with somewhat blase looks) and did the old "good game" routine at the end as though they had won.  They didn't, but they tried, and more importantly, seemed to have an incredibly good time, including the poor teammate who took a ball smack in the face one minute before the game ended. 

In the end, Kelsey wasn't disappointed because they lost, but because they got so few goals.  "Next time." she stated firmly on the way home,"we are going to get AT LEAST THREE!" 

*Who are we kidding, this kid was born to play soccer, and loves to watch just as much. If you remember pictures from way back when, he could kick a ball before he could walk.  When we arrived at the game, he ran around to the back of the car to get his "ba".  Little smarty-pants remembered how Pete kept the bags of balls in the trunk.  Yep, he's getting signed up next, provided it doesn't interfere with his Kindermusik/swimming/gymnastics/Itsy-Bitsy Yoga schedule.

Here's a a highlight reel of some of Kelsey's performance in goal (right-click and choose "Save Link As..." to save to your computer - 5.3MB):

Download Kelsey Goal Kick and Save

November 03, 2009

I thought I had it under control...

Peter left yesterday morning for a week's worth of training in the DC area, and I was bound and determined to have everything flow smoothly this week.  Not that his presence is necessary to have that happen, but there is that certain ebb and flow when you realize you are not the only responsible party within 3,000 miles who can care for your house, crazy cat, or usually adorable children.

IMG_1281 Since the last trip went relatively smoothly, I thought I would simply copy the same game plan, and just tweak things here and there.  Rather than go nuts and start off with a crazy schedule, we would have the relaxing Sunday up front.  Part of it would be a family meeting to determine the week's meals (and who would help cook them), and the rest would simply involve getting our of our jammies, and more importantly, out of the house.

No problem!  The day flew by as we spent time doing odds and ends around the house, and then headed to Osage Park in Danville.  The girls would uncovered dinosaur bones in the play area, while Nicholas and I did walking/running intervals on the circular trail.  Fabulous!  We even had plenty of time to spare to go home, change, and then get to the teen mass.

In theory, it would have been fine, except that not only did I forget snacks for Nicholas (Annie's cheddar bunnies are a lifesaver), but the mass was extra long due to a special homily and introduction of the those preparing for confirmation.  No, Nicholas was not happy. 

He had not taken nap that day, and he squealed and squirmed, and I was ready to call it quits before the collection was taken.  We ended up staying as I had promised the kids we would head to the family dinner afterward (translation: no cooking or cleaning for me), and Nicholas briefly made amends with everyone when he clapped wildly and shouted, "Yea!!" when the teen band finished singing. 

Thankfully, the rest of the evening was fairly uneventful, and even bedtime was fine.  The only hitch was a slightly later bedtime due to the late mass and dinner...and with Kelsey, early or late to bed....late to rise. 

She is NOT a morning person.  Combine that with someone else who is not a morning person trying to wake previously aforementioned non-morning person, and you have a lethal combination. I try to be patient (translation: drink at least one cup of coffee prior to waking her up), but I am usually trying to get two people going, and stop a third from destroying their rooms (to prevent the litanies of "he's touching my stuff!!!") while doing so.  Not nearly as easy as it sounds.

She dawdled and she dallied, and I finally lost it.  The embarrassing part?  I really lost it when she couldn't find her glasses.  I had about given up when I found them on the kitchen counter, the pink frames blending nicely with the granite in the counter top.  Who put them there?  Me.  Sigh.

For whatever reason, she got over it.  We dropped Cait and co. off at the middle school, and made it to Kelsey's school in time to drop her off in the front.  I headed back home for a second cup of coffee, and by 9:30 a.m., I was had it - again.  Between the shower drain not working, and the master bath being flooded by the toilet that was clogged by one piece of paper (or perhaps something Nicholas thought to throw down),the morning was in the toilet.  The best part? The property manager decided not to call Pete back (despite the fact he told him it was urgent), as he thought "we were all on vacation on the East Coast."  If we were, would we really be asking for a repairman to show up the next day?

IMG_1275 We made it to swim lessons early, and miraculously had not forgotten anything.  Nicholas swam his little heart out, and I quickly dressed him and we headed home.  He remembered that I had two "pleases" (pieces of candy) in my purse that he had been carting around all morning.  He loved clutching them in his sweaty little hands, and I didn't care, as he seemed to show no interest in eating them.  Until now.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw this face just as we were about to turn into our neighborhood. 

He was so happy, and so proud, though, that I just couldn't get mad.  He had somehow managed only to smear on his face and hands, and there didn't seem to be a drop of chocolate anywhere else.  Despite my best efforts, I had to laugh.  Now don't think that I didn't still sit down with my glass of Zinfandel, and cranberry cheese with the Raincoast Crisps last night, desperately trying to find my DVR-ed episode of House (another non-House night, what is going on??).  No, the bathroom clean up alone earned me that chunk of heaven.  Still, nothing like a Little Guy happily covered in smeary cocoa, and bursting with pride as he licks the wrapper to remind you that not all is lost, in fact, perhaps something good (and yummy) was just found.

October 19, 2009

When we were overseas,

IMG_3123 IMG_3127I must admit there was at least one thing we missed:  pumpkin patches. We could acquire fantastically shaped gourds in Caracas and genuine pumpkins in Iceland, but no pumpkin patches in either locale.We have decided, since we hope to go overseas again soon, to get our fill while we can.

One might think that would get repetitive, but not all pumpkin patches are created equal. They generally all have a wide variety of pumpkins, but some have hay rides, others have corn pits and mazes (of maize), and yet others just offer a few games, a lot of pumpkins, and the occasional jumping house/slide for kids.

IMG_3166 IMG_3186 Last year, Kelsey had a field trip to a very popular patch in Livermore, by the name of Joan's.  We never made it out as a family, and this year I decided it might not be a bad patch to try just with Nicholas.  We loaded up the picnic basket, found our sun hats (because it was 90 something in OCTOBER), and headed out with a friend and her daughter.

Joan's is a patch smack in the middle of a working farm.  We crept up the mile-long rocky road, and arrived just as the oodles of field trips were packing it up for the day.  We walked through several small patches, visited the "Old West" town (complete with a general store packed with modern-day candy), posed for pictures, climbed on haystacks, and ran through little tunnels.  Well, Nicholas managed to do all of that once he woke up.  Poor little guy fell fast asleep as we were driving in, and spent the first 45 minutes sound asleep in his Ergo (what would I do without it?).

IMG_3187 IMG_3191 Fast forward to today, and it's time for our second annual visit to G & M Farms, also in Livermore. They are famous for their corn maizes.  A new maize is designed each year, and one could easily get lost for hours, if not for the postcard-sized maps, clues (Trivia questions on tricky corners), and, now, text clues!  Yes, you can get a text while in the maize to help you along.  It was amusing, but we did just fine with the maps.

This year's map was dedicated to a local farmer who passed away last year.  It made for an incredibly interesting maze, and in some respects, very easy to follow.  We probably spent a good hour in there, and had even more fun than last year.  We kept Nicholas in the Ergo, but he enjoyed it all the same. Only once did he try to break the rules by grabbing at the corn; thankfully, it was a tough stalk.

IMG_3194 IMG_3197 We finished up at the play area, which includes the cow train, corn pit (and, thanks to the 'absorbent' diaper, have quite a collection of kernels at home), self-powered go carts, and 2 mini-mazes for the kids.  The larger maze is an indoor maze that even adult blessed in the height department can get through fairly easily.  One might not think it, but the hay can be quite insulating.  The farm was incredibly crowded yesterday, but one step inside the tunnels of the maze, and nothing but deafening silence.  It was only occasionally disturbed by Nicholas running through the tunnels at break-neck speed.

We had to cut the day slightly short to get Cait to CCD, but it was a great family activity.  There was something for everyone, and free, with the exception of a few rides.  I had been thinking prior to arriving that once may have been enough, but forgot how much more Nicholas could do this year.  After a hectic morning of soccer for Pete and church for the rest of us (first children's mass of the year), it was a welcome break on a gorgeous fall day.

October 02, 2009

Here I go again, on my own...

While we are no strangers to separations, brief or otherwise, it has been a while since Pete traveled.  If you are a new reader, and don't know our history with DS, um, in a nutshell..  With this lifestyle,when posted domestically (being attached to a detail/field office), the spouse of a an agent can end up having a good amount of "alone" time.  This can be good, bad or somewhere in the middle. 

Maybe it had just been a while since I had an extremely active toddler while Pete traveled.  Maybe the issue was that I now had three vs. two, and the two older children are in separate schools, with 7 weekly activities between them (the irony is that comparatively speaking, they are massively under-scheduled for this area).  We don't send them to tutors or language school, and to be fair, I count CCD as part of their weekly activities.  However, they still add up, and two weeks ago, with Peter slated to go to UNGA for 12 days, I realized that we were going to be kept hopping on a daily basis. 

We started off slowly, on a Thursday. Nothing more than soccer practice in the afternoon, and I only needed to drive the carpool and drop the kids off.  Friday came and the only events were a play date for Kelsey, and the beginning of choir practice (at the church) for both girls.  Kelsey decided to join (has been chomping at the bit since last spring), and despite Cait's efforts to ban her, she is going each week and really enjoying herself.  We figured we would have an "easy" dinner, and opted for our favorite pasta place.  For whatever reason, maybe the heat (was over 100 F most days Pete was gone), but everyone was a bit cranky, Nicholas included.  

I ended up making the executive decision that we would avoid eating out again until Pete came back, but it would require a bit of planning and restraint on my part.  It just seems so much easier to say, "Let's go out for pizza!", and be done with it. 

Though I promised Kelsey we could sleep in on Saturday, this fell flat when I realized the soccer game was at 9 a.m.  Nothing like not catching up on sleep when you really need it!  We made it to the game (they won), and hurried home to change and back out to the Farmer's Market.  The Saturday morning routine of the Farmers' Market has become so ingrained that the girls are upset if we even consider not going.  We simply can't pass up stand after stand of fruit and veggies, from the boxes of freshly-shelled English peas to the bunches of basil.  It also doesn't hurt that the Green Lantern Catering Company normally shows up to whip up a veggie fritatta and grilled artichokes that are simply out of this world, but do not break the wallet. The owner is not only a part-time caterer, but also the executive chef at Standford's in Walnut Creek. 

Thankfully, dinner was at a friend's house.  As a part of our monthly international dinner, we dined on samosas, lamb biryani, and cauliflower.  It was mildly spicy, and deeply satisfying.  We headed home, and  Nicholas fell asleep on the way.  Sunday was a sleep-in day.  Seems great until you try to get moving and realize nothing is going as planned...primarily because there wasn't  a plan.  It hit me that if I didn't quickly come up with a something, my week was going to be a disorganized disaster.  Four days in, and I was completely frustrated already.

IMG_1211 I quickly planned out meals from Sunday to Friday, and it saved me.  No last-minute "What do I make" or "let's just go out!".  We ate in every night, and it was so methodical, the girls didn't think twice. Yummy leftovers made great lunches the next day, and we rolled from school to activities, volunteer and otherwise, smoothly.  Still exhausting, and I was up late with laundry, cleaning, and the like, but far easier than expected.

Friday night arrived, and Kelsey was busy with a play-date, choir practice, and movie night at her school.  Cait had her 6th grade social, choir practice, and then volunteered at movie night.  Nicholas and I took the time to relax, and have quality time in between the various pick-ups and drop-offs.

    IMG_1212
Saturday rolled around once again, and with a later soccer game, we had time for the Farmers' Market early in the morning.  There was face-painting, aioli mustaches (grilled artichokes were back!), visiting with the kitties needing foster homes (and both girls desperately want us to become one), and the 4-H with a bevy of bunnies and chickens.  We made it to soccer just in time, and Kelsey shocked us all by volunteering to play goalie.  I was able to quickly upload  a photo via Facebook, and "Coach Pete" was able to see despite the 3,000 mile/3 hour difference.

IMG_1215 Jamba Juice followed, and we had just enough time to head home, swelter for a bit, and depart for a spaghetti dinner at the home of one of Cait's Chorus leaders.  She is a member of a local quartet, and in the midst of a fund-raiser for a trip to a much anticipated international competition.  Not only did we enjoy great music, and a yummy dinner, but Kelsey won not one, but two baskets in the raffle (back to back, even more amusingly).  

Despite the organization, and the overall ease of the week, we were still swamped, and it hit me hard on Sunday.  While a friend watched Nicholas on Friday so I could get a much-needed massage, it is still very hard being "on" 24 hours a day.  I realized we all needed a break, and kept our activities to a walk to the movies, a light home-made pesto dish for dinner, and Cait attending the first of her CCD classes.

IMG_1213 Monday and Tuesday passed quickly, and before we knew it, Peter was pulling up in the shuttle Tuesday afternoon.  He was gone 15 minutes later, as Kelsey had soccer, but he was home all the same.  Though here it is a few days later, and I keep thinking he will leave any minute.  It seems as though I almost fell back into my Virginia self, forgetting that he normally doesn't travel (that much), and that he won't be gone again for a while. So, he is back, we are together, and quite enjoying family time. It's a crazy life sometimes, but I think anything less would simply not be for us.  And, now, perhaps, a nap.