Monday, August 30, 2010

Its All Fun and Games until You're Eaten by a Mountain Lion

Let me just start by saying that no, none of us were eaten by a mountain lion, or came even close to being eaten by a mountain lion. We didn't even see a mountain lion. But on our Saturday hike we encountered this:

which really looked suspiciously to us like a scratching post used by a wilderness-sized kitty. A good friend of mine is a runner who lives up in the mountains and she has indeed encountered mountain lions on her morning run (which? would TOTALLY be a reasonable excuse for me to never, ever run ever again. ever.), so I know they're in these parts. And I'm glad we encountered the above scratching post near the end of our hike, else I am fairly certain I'd have turned us all around and gone home to watch a movie in our living room--you know, where the cats only weigh 10lbs and are fed on a regular basis so as to keep them from attacking and eating us.

But before we came upon the omen o' doom scratching post, we had a really nice hike. Ethan and I took Husband back to the nature trail that we'd been to earlier this month with Ethan's summer camp field trip.

We did a lot of oooh'ing & aahhh'ing over the red woods.

we even laid down on the ground to get the full effect of their freaking amazing majesty and all that...

My favorite face

Here is Ethan, playing park ranger, as he told us that he was busy "scientist-ing" and pointing out to us all the different features of the park. He insisted that he needed a pointer in order to tell us about the sign--apparently he's been sneaking out and attending forestry lectures a local college or something....I took forestry in college to fulfill a science credit. I hope learns more than I did.

Ethan is the only thing in this picture not covered by a thin layer of moss.

Husband taught Ethan the fine art of descending a steep patch sideways to avoid sliding down into a gaping ravine. So, you know, that was helpful. Amazingly, Husband refrained from telling Ethan about the time he himself almost fell off the side of a mountain in Honduras. Maybe next time. (it is a good story)

Ethan the monster being ever-so-scary as he jumps up from behind a hollowed out tree stump. Much as I imagine the mountain lion who wanted to eat us may have done.

Chasing Husband down the trail, again, like the mountain lion might have had we encountered him. It was shortly after this that we found the shredded tree stump.

We came upon a massive hollowed out redwood trunk and the next set of pictures is taken from inside the trunk of the tree:

Husband outside of the massive tree trunk

Ethan, looking super tough, inside the tree trunk with me

The view straight up from my seat inside the tree trunk

wonky self-portrait from inside the tree trunk

After Ethan and I scrambled out of the tree trunk and we all managed to successfully avoid an encounter with a newly manicured mountain lion, we headed back to civilization.

I never thought we'd be the hiking type of family--maybe a walk on the beach or a walk around the neighborhood after dinner type of family; but never a trudge through the wilderness on a trail vaguely maintained by park rangers type of family. We missed a lot of opportunities in Virginia and again in Los Angeles (which had some surprisingly good hiking), but I'm so glad we're making the most of Northern California and becoming less daunted by the great outdoors (mountain lions excepted, of course).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Dream

I won't talk about what took place on the National Mall today, on the same day in history as Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech, because I try not to make this a political space. I have friends and family with diverse political values, so regardless of my own feelings about certain people, *cough* Glenn Beck *cough* or views *cough* radical tea partyism *cough*, I generally try to keep this a place that is politically-neutral. But I couldn't help, as I read my twitter stream today, rife with 140-character-long diatribes on both sides, but reflect a bit on the values I want to share with my child as he grows up. And my sincerest hope is that, when Ethan is a grown man, it will be the words that Martin Luther King Jr spoke on this day in 1963 that resonate with him more than anything that may have been said in the name of "restoring America" today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

This morning I sat on our couch with Ethan and pulled up YouTube on the computer. With little to no effort, I found the full 16-ish minutes of MLK's speech and listened with Ethan. He wanted to know who this person was and what he was talking about. Why were all those people there? And who is that giant statue man sitting in the chair?

In the past, I've been hesitant to talk about race with Ethan. I mean, he's four. Shouldn't explanations about the bleakest eras and intolerances of our history be left to his civics teachers when he's in middle school? Or high school? Isn't it unseemly to talk about something like race with our little ones? I want him to treat everyone equally and isn't discussing our racial differences opening up a doorway to questioning our equality? Can't I just say pithy little things like "we're all equal, honey! Let's go get some fro yo!" ?

Turns out, not really. At least according to a lot of recent psychological studies. I'm reading a book called Nuture Shock, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman, which is a compilation of studies conducted to test several relatively recent parenting techniques (surrounding things like intelligence, lying, socialization, etc) and finding that a lot of the things we're doing that we think are super-duper fantastic parenting skills are actually--you guessed it--effing up our kids. WHOO HOO!

I'm not one to read a ton of parenting books (even though I realize I've recently referenced two on my blog), but I came at this one with a lot of suspicion and indignance; given it's title, I expected it to chastise me for "coddling" my child and not preparing him for the harsh realities of the world. But as I'm not really a helicopter parent, I wasn't sure I'd learn a whole lot from the book and I expected to take it with a big fat grain of salt. I have learned quite a bit, but I won't go into it in great length, because you didn't sign up for a book report when you clicked on my blog today.

Essentially, though, the book stresses, through the results of several different psychological studies, that discussing race with your child, as a basic fact and facet of who people are, and talking about what equality really is instead of just relying on it as a groovy happy buzzword (and thereby having to broach the ugly subject of what it isn't) has actually been shown to foster greater tolerance and acceptance in children, as opposed to tolerance and acceptance levels in those kids whose parents make the assumption, "I want my child to be color-blind, so I won't discuss race at all and hope that my modeling tolerance and acceptance will be enough." I was really shocked by this--thinking that my modeling behavior was enough. And who knows--maybe it would be. But that's not what the results of the tests cited in this book show. The studies also show that by the time parents think kids are "old enough" to handle a discussion of race and racism in our history, they've already essentially formed their opinions about the "otherness" of people who look different from them, in spite of our best intentions and in spite of our desire to raise "color blind" children.

So I thought about that as we watched MLK, Jr. talking about judging a person by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. And I started talking. Just a little bit. Do you see the color of his skin? It's darker than ours, isn't it? Lots of people have all kinds of different colors of skin, don't they? He's talking about how it's what's on the inside that matters. A long time ago, people thought it was what was on the outside, what color your skin was, that mattered--that made you a good or a bad person. Some people today still think that, isn't that sad? I told him that a long time before he was born, people whose skin was darker than ours were often treated badly and that these people, white and black, came together to hear Martin Luther King, Jr talk about how we could all change that and get along and treat each other respectfully (he knows from 'respectfully'--he's 4; he's hears that word a LOT). Nothing too deep. Nothing to rock his world or disturb his sleep. I'll save that for the civics teachers. And I have no idea how much of it he'll retain. But for now it's enough. A start.

My favorite part of the morning was when I told him that his Grandma Judy and her parents had been there. Watching Martin Luther King, Jr make this speech. They'd ridden down from Philadelphia on the train with a bunch of other people wanting to march on Washington and share MLK's message of peace and acceptance. To me, that is a tremendous thrill, to know that that thread of history runs through what is now my family. I got a little verklempt.

For Ethan, though? It kiiiiiinda changed the tone of the whole "I Have a Dream"-speech-watching experience. From that point on, he insisted that I fast forward to the part where Grandma Judy got up to speak about being nice to everyone, and that if I couldn't do that (I tried to explain, but what can you do?) that I should be able to find her, and her mother and father, in the crowd. Sure, kid. Whatever you say. A four year old's reality is something not easily messed with.

Friday, August 27, 2010

You Capture--Postcards from Paradise

Okay, so I'm pretty sure that I live in paradise. After the hot flash that was the early part of our week, the heat broke late Wednesday afternoon and by evening, the air was crisp and cool and essentially all garden of Eden-y for us to enjoy. We slept with the windows open and the covers actually over us instead of tossed in an angry pile of "its too hot!" at the foot of the bed, and woke up on Thursday morning to a thick marine layer (read: fog) and 60 degree temperatures.

Which really wouldn't be your typical "perfect" August weather, except that the previous three days had felt like the gods were torturing us and using the sun as an interrogation lamp. Let me take a minute here to admit that I'm a big giant wimp when it comes to weather. Who am I to complain about 3 days of 100+ weather?!! Hello! I just endured TWO summers (read: May-October) in LA where the average temperature hovers around the 100 degree mark. I'm not sure when I became such a weather wuss. But I am. And I fully accept the fact that I will complain when it's too hot, too cold, is too cloudy or has rained for too long, even though in general, I like heat, cold, rain and clouds. I do think we've found as close to paradise as we're going to in terms of weather, living here in Nor Cal; but I reserve the right to bitch at every instance where it is not 75 and sunny, with a nice breeze.

And go figure--that's exactly what yesterday ended up being. But before it was sunny and warm, we packed ourselves up and headed back to Santa Cruz, a place I am quickly starting to feel very warm & fuzzy about, for a day with our friends.

We set up camp next to a couple pieces of driftwood. The kids climbed on them & as we ended up shedding layers due to heat or rogue wave attacks, they made a nice drying rack.

The sea cliffs on the west coast are absolutely amazing

We started out in coats, long pants and sweat shirts.

lots of out-running waves...

...and waiting to see the seals poke their heads up in the surf....

then we took a walk to the cliffs and went past these GINORMOUS beach grasses.
Seriously, do you see my kid towards the lower right corner?

This tree? Blew my mind. Look at its roots holding on to the cliff.

The beach we went to, New Brighton beach, actually used to be called China Beach and was home to a fishing village of Chinese immigrants who made houses of tin and other scrap metals, living right on the beach and selling their fish in town. This lasted until the early '20's when anti-Chinese sentiment forced the fishing families to abandon the beach (what a shock! Americans?! Intolerant of immigrants?! Never.) So I thought it was poignant to find a young Asian man amidst the fog of the morning, fishing on the beach where perhaps his great-grandfather made a living in the early part of the last century. That's perhaps too quaint, but it made me happy to see him there.

Then the sun came out...

And there was much rejoicing...


My friend and her daughter, beautiful baby Z, got in some serious beach snuggles while the bigger kids jumped the tiny waves lapping the shore.

and Ethan impressed us with his drift wood surfing skillz.

I know I joked yesterday in my blog title about the beach being a "cure" for what ails you, but really--I think there's something to it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cure For What Ails You...

or, rather, the cure for what ails Ethan...

On Tuesday, as the amoxicillin started to do its thing, Ethan and I were faced with a wall of heat that was the Bay Area summer of '10 heat wave. Someone on twitter (I wish I could remember who) said it was like Mother Nature was having a hot flash.

It's been high 70's, maybe a low 80 here and there, all summer long. Really amazing, cannot-believe-I'm-so-lucky-to-live-in-Eden type weather. Then, out of nowhere, 105 degrees for three days. Hot flash. And as we are Mother Nature's helpless little minions, we had to suffer along with her. Because, you know, we've got no A/C. I guess I have to agree that for the 5 days of the summer you really NEEEEEED it, it's hardly worth installing central A/C or huddling into one room with a window unit all day. The only thing to do is close all the windows and shades around the house early in the morning before the sun starts to beat down. Then, when you first come in from outside, you feel a momentary sense of "ahhhh, cool," which quickly turns into "well, slightly less horrible than outside, but without a lick of air flow," and that turns into a full-on claustrophobic fit of "zomg! The walls! They're closing in! The air, it's gone! And its really dark in here!"

So, not really that much fun.

Eventually, once I was sure the fever was gone (good times trying figure that out when you're so sweaty hot you want to go sit in an ice-bath until you are prune-y), we jumped into the car & headed to the coast. When you live in a valley in California, you can count on at least a 20 degree difference in the temperature once you get to the shore. Which kind of makes me wonder why we don't live at the shore.

Taking a kid to the beach while he'a all strep-throaty and such doesn't necessarily seem like a good idea. But his fever was gone, the doctor said he wasn't contagious and there are few other places we could go where he could be around other kids without running much risk of spreading any stray buggaboos. And, watching that car thermostat inch downward as we neared Santa Cruz? Priceless.

We only stayed for an hour or so because I didn't want Ethan to totally wear himself out. But in that hour we jumped waves, found treasures (read: filthy disgusting bird feathers and random dried out sea weed--he's really not so adept at treasure finding yet) and I managed to get a super sunburn on my face.

And really, we should have stayed much later in the cool sea breeze all frolicky and happy, because we came home to a 95 degree temperature outside, 90 degree temperature inside AND...wait for it...a power outtage. From 6pm to 11:30pm. That's a whole lotta hours of outtage. Relatively speaking, of course (this is where my inner critic chastizes me for being so 1st world that 5 hours of power outtage makes me twitchy, but whatever, it was HAWWWT.) We lit candles in the living room, lost about 4 pounds of water weight as we sweat like beasts and found our way around the house by the light of our iPhones--which? Had a bit of a Blair Witch vibe that I did. not. dig.

You can't get to a beach around here without walking down some sort of stair case....

kelp-y beach. Thankfully this year Ethan decided he thinks sea weed is fascinating instead of being utterly terrified by it, like he was last year.

This picture shows why exactly we need stairs to get to Nor Cal beaches; it's hard to repel down the cliff with all the beach gear...

yeah, he's so sick.

Pelicans! We spent some time watching them dive bomb the waters for their lunch. They do NOT fuck around, people.

We liked it so much that, even though Mother Nature's apparently getting her hormone replacement meds tomorrow and the forecast is heading back down into the 70's, we're heading back to the beach. Chances are we'll have to wear long pants and a hoodie, but whatever. The beach is the beach & it's all good.