Thursday, July 29, 2010

Best Family Adventure Summer Hiking Series - Kite Day

Earlier in the summer, another mother suggested this moderately-strenuous-though-ridiculously-short hike coupled with a picnic and kite flying session. It was a great idea! Most of the kids were surprised by the brevity of the hike, particularly my girls who have become accustomed to fairly long walks, particularly for kids their ages. And while the wind didn't cooperate very well, we did enjoy a nice day on top of Terrace Hill with several other families. Thanks for joining us.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Peach Jammin' Comes Home

Today we were blessed with a bounty of peaches from a friend. V helped me blanch and peel off the skins from some 14 pounds of peaches. We mashed 'em, added sugar, and cooked them 'til they were pretty and sweet and scrumptious, then scooped the lot into sterilized jars, put on the lids, bathed 'em in boiling water and called it good. MMmmmmm! Oh! SO GOOD!

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Saving the Planet One Flush at a Time

I really dig those dual flush toilets. You know, the expensive jobbers with the two-way flusher. One direction releases just enough to flush a bit of paper and the liquid in the bowl. The other direction gives it the full flush for more thrust in times of need. I like the idea of saving water, both for the environment and for our checkbook. But replacing our relatively new toilets with these water-saving contraptions is a bit costly.

Enter an impulse buy today at our friendly neighborhood warehouse store. As I was meandering, child-free, through the aisles, I spotted this HydroRight dual-flush converter. It touted easy installation. Indeed, the box shouted "no tools required!" And it was only 18 bucks; certainly worth a try. I picked up two, hoped for the best, and headed toward home.

The installation was, in fact, a cinch. The most difficult part was removing the existing handle. Before I figured out (on the second toilet) that the handle is reverse threaded, I managed to strip the first handle which then had to be knocked out with the help of a hammer and chisel. Why they were reverse threaded I'll never know, but I thought I'd confess my mistake here to save you some time - and a handle in case you decide to turn back.

The first toilet probably took me close to 15 minutes to complete, including breaking the old handle, actually reading and following the instructions, and finally calibrating the gadget. The second toilet probably took me 8 minutes at most, including the easy calibration.

The only thing I would change about the setup would be to move the link that attaches to the "handle" so that it doesn't conflict with the fill tube. By placing that link on the side of the mechanism, instead of on the back where it mashes against the fill tube, the system would install more easily, and would probably last longer.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Where's the Truth in Journalism?

Hurrah for Lance Armstrong, who called Outside Magazine's choice to heavily manipulate his cover shot "lame bull$#@*." While in a sporting goods store this past weekend I happened to catch a glimpse of the embattled cover and I've got to say: I'm with you, Lance. Photographs should represent the truth of the matter, not be doctored, particularly without the subject's permission, to include material that never shared the stage. Now Outside is just one more media outlet I can no longer trust. If the cover shot isn't true, how do I know the copy is?

Back in my day - yeah, way back then - journalism students were required to take media ethics. Students who couldn't be bothered to take the class were not awarded diplomas. Students who failed didn't earn that Mystical Piece of Paper until they managed to get the idea. The single-term class covered the history, theory and practice of print and broadcast media with a particular focus on ethical dilemmas.

Among the hot topics was the potential for changing the viewers' perspective of an event through photo editing. While the rhetoric of reporting is, by its nature, subjective, the photographic depictions of events were thought to be more objective. The camera told no lies, didn't color the story with it's own sordid history, didn't have opinions either way on the world it saw. The camera merely recorded that split second of time for all to see.

We spent hours discussing the ethics surrounding photography in news media. How much information should be shared? What can be cropped, what cannot? Should presenting news images ever involve dodging or burning out information? What if, for instance, there's a certain soda can in a news image; is it alright to remove the can so as not to provide free advertising, or not to offend paying advertisers? The consensus way back in those dark ages was: a photo should represent the true event. It should not be doctored to remove or add information that was not actually there when the image was taken.

Now, back in those days, photo creation and editing was not nearly as easy and accessible as it is today. It still involved a relatively tedious process. First we rolled film from giant rolls into camera-friendly canisters. Then we loaded the film canisters in the cameras, carefully extending the tail of the film across the film plate and aligned the square holes with the sprocket-like film guide teeth. When our shoot was complete, we cloaked ourselves in complete darkness to roll the film out of the canisters and onto reels (auto-load, if we were lucky), dropped them into tanks of caustic chemicals and agitated gently for a prescribed period of time. If we managed that half correctly, we were rewarded with tiny, still, negative images. Then came the printing: light-sensitive paper, clunky enlargers, more caustic chemicals, more darkness, some red light, squeegees, print dryers, stained clothes and, finally, the reward of photographic prints.

It was in the printing stage that serious doctoring could take place. But that was nothing like the changes we can make from the comfort and relatively cleanliness of our computer desks with photo editing software. The changes can be absolutely magical, but they also pose a problem on that ethics stage. When is editing too much? Is it OK to sharpen the focus? Is it alright to remove a blemish? If so, why, Outside is surely asking itself, is it not acceptable to place whatever logo the editor wants on a cover model's blank shirt? What's the big deal about printing "38" to represent his age and "B.F.D." to represent Outside's take on Lance's age in relation to the Tour de France?

The big deal is that Lance wore a plain shirt for the shoot. He didn't wear a sponsor-emblazoned shirt. He didn't go bare chested. And he didn't advertise his age and some editor's sentiment on the shirt he chose. He presented himself as he wanted to be seen, and editors created an entirely different message without seeking his approval. While the cover did note, in smaller text, that the shirt was doctored, the damage was already done - from news racks, passersby saw the large image, not the explanatory text. Really, it wasn't a lot different from BP doctoring its shots, creating UFO mythology, or removing pop stars' belly buttons and such. But Outside editors don't see it that way.

Think I'm a wacko? Well, at least I'm not alone. The message is clear: unless you saw it happen yourself, you really can't be sure what's presented is true. Take everything you read or see with a heavy dose of salt, do your own research, and think for yourselves. News, the stuff of tomorrow's history books, will never be the same.

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Best Family Adventure Summer Hiking Series - Oso Flaco Lake

This week's hike was much closer to home for us. We headed north on Highway 1 into San Luis Obispo County to take the easy walk across the boardwalk at Oso Flaco Lake. Our friend Sarah brought her two little ones. She also brought an adult cousin of hers who carried a toddler on her back most of the way. The group was small, but the company was fantastic.

We met up at 10:15 a.m. at the gate just past the parking lot. The kids found a pile of fill dirt, presumably set for filling potholes in the parking lot, and proceeded to climb and run and dig and generally have a great time. I'm sure they would have been happy had we stayed at the fill hill all day. But we moms had other plans.

We enjoyed a nice walk along the tree-lined access road, then across the boardwalk/bridge from which we spied cormorants, white pelicans, mallard ducks, coots, an egret, a heron and a California Least Tern. The girls took a moment to re-enact the cover of our first book before carrying on with the day's adventure. Toward the western end of the boardwalk, they tried to sneak up on the heron which showed great patience for a time before finally fleeing to a post in the middle of the lake.

It's been quite awhile since the girls and I have been to Oso Flaco Lake. We've spent much of the past year exploring Santa Barbara County for the most recent book, so we've missed our old haunts. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the boardwalk extension. In past visits, we've hit the soft sand just before the last climb over the short dunes to the beach. This time, the boardwalk made the climb a cinch and beach access much simpler.

While the moms visited by the waves, the kids explored the shore. V decided to relive a moment when she found a sturdy piece of bull kelp. It was Sarah's daughter who grabbed on to be dragged, and V doing the pulling. What a hoot! We kept all of the kids away from the water - the shore drops quickly here, the waves are treacherous, and there was a clear rip tide directly opposite the beach access ramp. Still, we enjoyed the water, particularly viewing a herd of seals in a feeding frenzy. Minutes later, a pod of Humpback whales passed through the same feeding grounds, spouting and carrying on in the easy manner of passing whales.

The addition of the boardwalk extension ensures easy access for most any family willing to take the time to enjoy the walk. We'll be back again soon.

Now THAT's What We Like to See

What great, positive, supportive responses I received (via e-mail and comments on this page) to my last post. THANK you for your support, and your willingness to HELP us try to make this happen!

I've been "working hard" spreading the word and getting my votes in and doing whatever we can do to hit the top spot. (It's not as if I'm digging tunnels, or building roads, or working salt mines. It's just time intensive.) We'd been stuck in third there for awhile, then rose to second early this week, finally knocking out the entrant who'd held the top spot for weeks. We held second for a couple of days while I was voting from Marin County where the girls and I spent an extended weekend relaxing with family.

So imagine my surprise when I returned to my home computer, opened the standings page and found us at the BOTTOM of the page! I couldn't believe my eyes! ALL that time spent. ALL those friends roped in, and THEIR time spent. For what?! So I reloaded the page. Lo and behold, the reload brought us back in the running. Another reload moved us into the top row again. Yet another reload took us down a few pegs.

Apparently, the contest organizers have opted to change the display of that "popular" page to shuffle with each click. Bummer for us because we knew where we stood before, but probably best for the contest. This way, everyone on the front page, at least, feels like they're in the running and continues to spread the word. I know we're still in the top two. I also know we'll need all the help we can get to rise to the top spot by Sept. 6. Hang in there with me! I know my crew has more staying power than theirs. I just KNOW it!

While we now know they're shuffling, after casting my votes tonight and spreading the word through another channel, it was gratifying to see the standings page pop up like this. Sure, it's random. But it looks great just the way it is.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Knowing When to Quit

When I travel and lose my way, I tend to forge ahead for awhile, but it's not uncommon for me to turn back just blocks from my intended destination, unsure whether the path I've chosen is, indeed, the correct one. I seek local advice, then turn again toward my goal with an embarrassed smile as it becomes clear that, once again, if I'd just forged ahead I would have arrived as planned. But when you've lost your way, found it again, and are only somewhat certain you're on the right path, when should you pull back and ask for help, when should you forge ahead, and when should you just call it a day and head for home?

I'm there again, traveling down this path I've begun toward a destination I believe is attainable. But it wasn't long after beginning this summer journey that I realized I'd need some help to find my way. I've hit up everyone I know in my search for help in finding my way to the final destination, and our combined efforts have been working. We've moved closer and closer to our goal, until today. Today, we lost our way, despite all the help I've been able to muster. It seems we need more muscle than I've been able to garner. I'm sore, and bruised, and tired, but I'm not quite ready to quit the fight. Someone has to make it there. Why can't it be me?

Am I on the right path? Should I forge ahead? Or should I call it a day and head for home? How do YOU decide?

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