The Summer of '09

It could finally be the kind of Summer that I had been hoping for; one where the girls and I could plan vacations and expect that we would be able to do them.

Everything was in place. I had LOTS of paid-time-off saved up and had to actually start using some or else I would "top out" and stop acruing more. Amelia's ankle was responding to the medication that Stanford prescribed so she could walk, run, and jump as necessary. Natalie was old enough to really remember things and participate in decision making. The agreed upon "week-on / week-off" schedule was backed up by court-orders so we could trust it. And, my ex was acting stable enough that I could expect she wouldn't have the kids taken away from her again THIS summer and I wouldn't have to spend lots of time in court or talking to child-protective-services or Family Court mediators.

Unfortunately, WORK was a bit of a problem. I had tons of new and huge projects that had to happen. The answer turned out to be "four-day weekends." I would get the girls on Friday afternoon. Then take the following Monday and Tuesday off. That gave us plenty of time to do simple trips. Or... so we thought.

This page is a recap of our Summer activities. As always, click on a picture for a bigger version.

Amtrak to San Francisco

We started off the Summer with a ride on Amtrak to San Francisco for the day. This was partially a "shake-down" trip to see how well Amelia handled a day on her feet. Turned out there was no need to worry.

We caught the train at about 9:00am, transfered to a bus at Emeryville and arrived at the Ferry Building at 11:00 or so. The girls remembered "the cool cheese place" (Cowgirl Creamery in case you're wondering) in the building next door so, of course, we stopped in, bought a hunk of something really good and purchased fresh rolls from the bakery next door. We sat outside and had a very European lunch while the pigeons massed. We finished before there were enough of them to carry Natalie away and started walking down the waterfront.

It was just one of those beautiful days; warm, sunny, and breazy enough to keep everyone comfortable.

We wandered down to Pier 39. The girls played at the tiny playground, we window-shopped, and watched the (very loud and very stinky) sea lions. We were just in time to see the mega-ship XXX come under the Golden Gate and cruise by to dock at at the nearby cruise terminal. It would normally go from Los Angeles down to Mexico and back but the "swine flu" fear had caused the line to re-route everything north for a while. It was strange to see it docked later; it was so huge that it was like a new sky-scraper had been built while our backs were turned.

We had a late-lunch / early-dinner at The Rainforest Cafe because the girls just like the place. However, Amelia still doesn't like the monkeys so we asked to move to a different table.

Our wanderings continued up to Ghiradelli Square. We bought chocolate (we were too full for their MASSIVE ice-cream creations) and sat around soaking up the ambiance.

It was finally time to start wandering back to meet the bus that would take us to the train. We got to Pier 39 a little early so the girls got to buy some souveniers that they had seen earlier and we sat on the patio of a cafe and had squid and shark appetizers to kill some time.

The bus and the train were on time. We dozed a good part of the way back and were home by 11:00.

The Train

Pier 7

Ship and Rock

Pier 39

Ghiradelli Square

Pier 7

Helpful Sign

Fish ARE Food
Missions, Museum and Other Things near San Jose

Our second trip was much more ambitious. Amelia had to go to Stanford for a checkup so we decided to go down early and spend a couple of days exploring The Silicon Valley.

A good friend got us a GREAT deal on a hotel room and were were off.

Natalie goes into 4th Grade next year. That's the grade where they study California History and have to build a model of a Mission. As we got into the area, we stopped at Mission San Jose. A very nice place with a reasonably museum attached. After that, we drove into town to go to The Tech Museum; it's a hands-on science exhibit. The girls loved it. They built (and tested) water-wheels, wind turbines, and solar collectors to learn about alternative energy. They arm-wrestled over the internet. They experienced a simulated earthquake. And, well, did all sorts of other cool things. We stayed until they pushed us out.

A quick stop to check into the hotel at Milpitas and we wandered to the (very) nearby Great Mall to find dinner and a new bathing suit for Amelia. Dinner...we found... the bathing suit... no luck.

We were up early the next morning to get to the Rosicrucian Eqyptian Museum. This is a really amazing place. If you go (and we all urge you to go), make sure to take time to wander around the grounds; they are beautiful. We got there just after they opened so the place was just about empty and everyone was more than happy to take extra time to get us setup with the audio tour and tell us things that we shouldn't miss. The girls loved the simulated rock-tomb so much that we went through it twice. We were in the museum for nearly four hours.

Sadly, we had a 2:00 appointment at Stanford so we headed out at the last minute, grabbed lunch on the way, and made it to the office right on time. The doctor was pleased with Amelia's progress but he told us to get a new set of blood-work done to make sure that she's not reacting to the medicine in a way that's not obvious.

It was a quick trip back to the hotel afterwards (we stopped at Walmart to get snacks for that night and we found a bathing suit for Amelia). Everyone took a dip in the pool (Natalie can NOT stay at a hotel without going in their pool) to wake ourselves up and we drove to the nearby drive-in to see "Ice Age 3" and compare the facility to our local (and beloved) drive-in. The girls decided that their snack bar was better but they liked the layout of our place more.

We checked out the next morning and began a long loop home that would take the entire day. We stopped at Mission Santa Clara on the grounds of UC Santa Clara (wow, what a georgous school) and then drove to Santa Cruz.

Mission Santa Cruz is a smaller-scale replica of the original which was a bit odd. But, it has a pretty little courtyard garden with a fountain. Being that close to the ocean, we had to go to the beach and found ourselves spending the next couple of hours at Natural Bridges State Park. We found a secluded little pocket-beach and the girls played in the waves (I kept them in shorts and t-shirts so they wouldn't decide to go too far out) while I watched them from the sun-warmed rocks

After a slow-crawl out of town, we headed east to Mission San Juan Baptista. It turned out to be a HUGE complex. But, were were 30 minutes late to tour it so we wandered around outside and looked through the windows of the museum.

Continuing East we stopped at the "tourist rest-stop" of Case de Fruita. We all rode their little train, browsed the various gift-shops, and the girls "panned" for gems in their sluice.

Finally heading home on Hwy 5, we stopped to stretch our legs in Santa Nella at "the famous Pea-Soup Andersons" but we weren't hungry to we didn't go in and have any of the soup (which, as I remember, is actually very good).

Mothball Fleet

4 Missions

Tech Museum

Thermal Portrait

Our Room

The Mall

Walk like an

Who's your Mummy?

The Grounds

Swim Time



More Beach

Even more Beach

Son of a

Tiny Train

Making Soup
Raging Waters, Girl Scout Camp Prep, and The Half Blood Prince

Our third trip was actually staying in town. Our friends, The Hannas, came down from Vina and we all went to a local waterpark (Raging Waters). It was a great day with lots of fun slides and many MANY trips floating around the lazy river. You can understand why there are no pictures; I wasn't about to worry about protecting a camera.

Afterwards, our friends came over to our place for dinner and we sat around chatting until midnight.

The next day was all about getting Natalie ready to go to Girl Scout Camp the next week. We went to the Girl Scout store, Target, Walmart, and who knows how many other places until we had everything she needed for four days away.

But we weren't done yet. Everyone took a nap so we would be nice and rested for the midnight showing of "Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince" at the drive-in (yes, I like the drive-in). There was a long line of cars when we got there at 10:30pm. We sat and talked and played for an hour before they let us in (they had to wait for the 9:00 showing of "Up" to finish playing so they could let us in to their screen that holds 400 cars. A bunch of friends came with us. The girls were wide awake and loved the movie. We made it home at 3:00am and they loved the idea that they had attended the midnight premier.

Two days later, we spread out all of Natalies things and actually packed her duffel for camp.

Interlude -- Nat to Girl Scout Camp

This doesn't really count as one of our trips. But it's still cute and funny and part of our Summer so I'm taking the liberty of including it

Natalie went off to a 4-day Girl Scout Camp with two of her friends from the Troop. This was a basic "see if you like being away" kind of thing. Of course, we had no worries and our non-worries were proven to be true (uh, I'm not sure that makes any sense).

When Natalie got back, we asked "how was it?" and she responded "not that great, we didn't get to CAMP very much." She was upset that it wasn't a lot more rustic. She wanted a real camping experience.

She did enjoy riding horses (her's was named Apple Jack) and doing archery. They also put on a skit and had a little "fair" where they did other kids' hair.

She does say that she wants to go back. But she's considering something more intense for the future.

Waiting for the bus

Singing Songs

At camp

Random activity
Kyri's Birthday and Lassen Volcanic Park

Saturday, we had lunch with my brother, sister, and Lucian and then went to get all the last minute stuff (and non-perishable food) for our trip. We packed and the girls tried to clean their room (so it wouldn't be a wreck when we get back). We finally gave up and hunkered down and watch a DVD after packing most of our stuff in the car.

Sunday morning we were up for 7:30am church with Mom and Dad. A quick breakfast at McDonald's and we changed, grabbed the last of our stuff, and hit the road for Vina. Arrived right on time at noon and caravaned up to Redding to the water park for Kyri's birthday. It is really cool and slightly sad that my girls are now old enough to grab a friend and go ride the rides without me. I spent about 50% of the time with them and the rest talking to Blake and Jon. A really nice day. We stayed until they closed the park.

But our day wasn't over. Some of Mom's cousins live up there so we couldn't pass up seeing them. They were having a pool party (they had just finished building their pool about a week before). The girls swam with their "cousin" (2nd? Once removed? Whatever), we had dinner, and then the kids went BACK in the pool until I pulled them out after 9:00.

We checked into the local Howard Johnson and crashed. The hotel was "adequate." Nothing special but good enough for one night.

Then, we got up, hit the local Safeway for the last of the provisions and headed in to Lassen. We came in through the North side of the park and stopped at that Visitor Center. There was a nice little outdoor talk being presented about a bunch of the little animals in the park. The girls rolled their eyes at some of the Ranger's corny jokes... but they were able to quote her the rest of the trip and apply what they learned.

We stopped at the little store at Manzanita lake to look for souvenirs and other random stuff and started driving down to our campground.

Of course, we got distracted a couple of times along the way. First to climb a jumble of rocks and take pictures and then to play in a wonderful little stream.

The water was CLEARLY right off the snow. I have no idea how Natalie was able to stand in it for so long; Amelia and I could help her build the stick-damn for about 30 seconds and then have to get out of the water. Natalie just chugged along.

We found an old beaver-home (clearly abandoned because it was out of the water) and a tiny water snake. It really was difficult to get the girls back in the car.

Our next stop was our actual camp-ground. We stayed at the North Summit Lake site. A pretty little area right on the edge of one of the billion lakes in the park. We got all setup and went for a swim. Wow, what a nice warm lake. It was shallow out for a long distance and we just lazed around in the water and on the shore for quite a while.

We wandered back to our tent, started a campfire (just for ambiance, but if you get a chance be sure to ask Amelia about the now-vanished Pop-Tart bogs of North America... she loves to tell the story), and Amelia and I played Senet (an ancient Egyptian game we learned about in San Jose) while Natalie rested for a little bit. A quick dinner, a nice hike in the dark, and we were ready for bed.

It took us a little while to break down and pack everything the next morning. The girls were mostly helpful; it's wonderful that they're old enough to help but they are still highly distractable.

I wish we had had another day or two. We really tried to pack too much into the second day.

We started our drive down through the rest of the park. First stop was Kings Creek Falls. We got distracted and played in a forest meadow and then went on. It was then that Amelia said "Look, a bear." Sure enough, about 30 feet away was a bear tearing apart a log and finding lunch. It looked at us... we looked at it... I regretted telling both girls that they were my "favorite kid" because I might have to pick one and disappoint the other... and the bear went back to eating bugs. We carefully continued our hike (while trying to get a picture, but all we could see were ears).

The path led down into a ravine where the brook became a rushing pre-waterfall. We ran into a group of CCC workers who had been camped out there all week working on the trail. A nice "Specialist" was building steps and a swtichback. He took time to talk to the girls and explain what he was doing. They were very impressed.

We finally reached the falls and had a snack-break with the water thundering behind us. That's when Natalie pointed across the ravine. She had spotted a marmot moving up and down the steep slope. We took the alternate route back. It went around the mountain instead of up the ravine. The views were amazing.

We made it back to the car with no further significant wildlife encounters and drove on to a picnic area for lunch.

The final hike was to the geothermal features of Bumpass Hell. This hike nearly killed us. There is a long slow climb and then a steep switchback drop into the area. The entire hillside during that drop is covered in the bright-white minerals that are expelled by the hissing features below; it was like walking in a solar-oven.

The actual Hell is really astounding. Giant Hissing vents, steaming lakes, bubbling mud-holes, and the most incredible stench.

The hike back out of the bowl was tough. But, I was so impressed with Amelia and Natalie. They just kept going. Amelia would power ahead, rest, then power ahead again. Natalie was slow-and-steady. She never stopped and never hurried and was the first "over the top" and on the downslope to the parking lot. It was amazing to see them "suck it up" and just hike. After all, I felt like I wasn't going to make it; I knew it had to be awful tough for them. If we had had the option I would have done just one of those hikes a day. For such a small park there is an amazing number of things to see and do.

We followed the road the rest of the way down to the South entrance (with stops to play in the snow, of course).

The Park Service just opened a new Visitor Center. We got ice-cream and watched a movie about the park (yes, I know, would have made more sense to see that first).

It was with profound regret that we passed the "Now Leaving Lassen Volcanic National Park... thank you for visiting" sign. The girls were already asking when we could come back (and Natalie wants to see it in Winter).

At the Waterpark

Swimming at dinner

Crashed at the Ho-Jo

Climbing a Jumble

Eric and Lassen Peak

Hat Creek

Warm Log, Cold Water

Enjoying Summit Lake

Playing Senet

Doing "The Circle of Life"


Kings Creek Cascade

Kings Creek Falls


Long Climb, Great View

Snow in LATE-July

Helen Lake

Bumpas Hell pots

Bumpass Hell overview
Interlude -- Nat and Dad Day

Again, this isn't a real trip; but it was a fun little break in our routine.

One Friday, Amelia was hanging out with a friend and decided to spend the night. I picked up Natalie at 6:00pm (we do our Summer exchanges on Friday afternoons) and she and I thought it would be fun to "do something special."

First stop was The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. Natalie is a huge fan of their spaghetti with mazithra cheese. She did the activities on the kids' menu, we played tic-tac-toe, and just chatted as we sat in the trolley.

Right next door is Monster Mini Golf, Natalie loves this place. It was pretty empty in there this night so we were able to move along at our own pace. Nat is getting much better at her putting but, sadly, I didn't start her when she was 4 so she'll never be on the pro-circuit and make a billion dollars and take care of me in my old age. SIGH.

Anyway... the DJ was playing "name that tune" and I gave Nat the answer to "Jenny 867-5309." She ran up, was the first one to get it right, and got a container of play-dough. You would think it was pure gold the way she was excited. We played a few of their games-for-tickets afterwards. Natalie did well (hmm, maybe I should take her to Vegas) and besides turning the tickets in for some things for herself (glow-in-the-dark bugs and some rings) she bought me a Twizzler (my second favorite snack-food-item) and a really nifty skull-and-crossbones pirate ink-stamp (so, if you find a pirate mark on a letter I send you... be honored instead of freaked-out).

But, the evening wasn't over yet.

The weather was so nice when we got home at 9:30 that we just had to take a dip in the pool. The complex had tossed in a couple of beach balls and inflatable fish. We batted the balls around for about 30 minutes and Natalie just kept chattering the whole time. It's so nice to get one-on-one time with her; she really opens up and has a great sense of humor.

Our last activity was to get our 'jammies on, snuggle up on the couch, and watch an episode or two of Phineas and Ferb that we have on DVD.

A wonderful evening, all around.

Spaghetti Factory

Ready for Monster Golf

The Haunted Fireplace

Nat at the Pool

Dad at the Pool

In our 'jammies
Raging Waters -- Revisited and Grass Valley and Nevada County Fair

I've been going to the Nevada County Fair in Grass Valley as long as I can remember because my mother grew up there and huge numbers of her family are still living in the area. Of course, I've been taking my daughters since they were born so they now know it as well as I do.

The fair started on a Wednesday so we shifted our regular pattern a bit. We stayd in town and took it easy over the weekend and then I went to work on Monday. Tuesday morning we cooled-off by using our passes to Raging Waters to go back and ride a few more slides. Amelia even went on The Cliffhanger (see picture) with me. But, we both agreed it was "fun but not worth the atomic wedgie you end up with." Afterwards, we packed up and went to spend the night at the house in Grass Valley. That's when things got "complicated."

We arived in the evening and stopped at the local grocery store for dinner supplies. We got corn, bread, cantelope, and some pre-cooked ribs they had on sale. We tossed them all on the BBQ and sat down to enjoy the evening on the patio. Just as we started eating... some bug started flying around me. I waved my hand around to shoo it away. That's when I found out it was a yellow-jacket; the little bugger stung me right between two fingers. I have to admit it; I used language that was innapropriate for my daugthers to hear and then we took our dinners inside.

Most of the swelling had gone down by the next morning so we headed off to the fair with hopes of a better day.

The weather was warm but nice and the crowds were good but not too big. We snacked our way through the day on cinnamon rolls, chocolate covered strawberries, teriyaki bowls, bratwurst, kettle corn, pizza, pasties, ice-cream, cotton candy, pink popcorn, and WAY too much lemonaid.

The girls got more than my money's worth out of the unlimited-ride wristbands and we even spent time watching the little dogs race and watching a "gift wrapping competition" (ok, that was really just because we needed somewhere to sit in the shade and eat).

Raging Waters

We rode this

First Ride at the Fair

Using the Footsie

Cinnamon Roll

Kettle Corn

Dog Racing

Strawberries, YUM!

Seeing the Sheep

Riding the Twister


Haunted House



Dinner Break

Nat's Bumper Car

Amelia's Bumper Car
California State Fair

upcoming trip, stay tuned.

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