Saturday, July 30, 2011

Best Family Adventure Hike Series Continues

This summer's hike series turned out some fantastic families. We had dads along this year, a first for the series, and more hikers on average that the series drew during its inaugural year (2010). After last summer's series, several of the regulars asked if I'd schedule another series this summer, and so it was.

Because two of the moms who had, previously, been dedicated hikers are quite pregnant this summer, we started out with among the easiest hikes in the county: Black Hill in Morro Bay State Park. The ascent is easy enough most toddlers can make it, and the hike is so short it's hardly worth the drive for avid hikers. But it offers a great introduction to hiking for the youngest set, is accessible to the pregnant set and provides amazing views for all.

Next up, we hit the new Froom Creek Trail in San Luis Obispo. I had hiked the route a couple of weeks early with SLO Parks & Rec Director Shelly Stanwyck who also happens to be a high school classmate, but that's another story for another time. The direct route is fairly easy and incredibly well maintained. Our hiking group doubled this week.

Our hiking group doubled again the following week as we headed up Poly Canyon, a favorite in our family. With our camera/hard drive issue, I opted not to take photos, but to instead fully enjoy the day through my own lenses. Last year's photos pretty much sum up this year's hike as well - a great walk, nice tour of the structures and some creek play before heading home.

Bob Jones Trail is typically an easy walk/pedal/push along the paved bike path, but this summer's third hike in the series threw us a curve with unusually high temperatures. Still, the gang was game and we had a great time travelling by bike, scooter, stroller and roller skates. A few families joined us after the walk with a dip at Avila Hot Springs. It was my girls' first visit to the naturally heated pool - and they're hooked!

With a regular group returning each week, we headed to Reservoir Canyon for a nice creek walk and picnic. We arrived at our picnic spot so much earlier this year than last. It seems the kids' growing legs suddenly travel exponentially faster than they did only a year ago. So the parents opted to lengthen the hike before doubling back to enjoy the creekside spot.

Aunt Amy and the Cousins joined us the following week for a few days of fun and adventure in the neighborhood, at the arena and finally on the trail with the series' next hike: Coon Creek trail in Montana de Oro State Park. This was the first hike E and I took when I started writing outdoor adventure stories for the local paper after she was born. We'd "discovered" a great old oak tree that was perfect for a mid-hike nurse or nap and have returned to the tree every visit since. This year, new signs at the park identify that tree aptly as "Mother Oak." Most of us continued on to Spooner's Cove for a refreshing splash about and rock hounding before heading home.

And this week we wrapped up the series (and our first Adventure Experience Camp) with a VERY short walk to White Rock Swimming Hole on the Upper Santa Ynez River. It was supposed to be our traditional late-summer dip at Red Rocks Swimming Hole, but the road to the trailhead remains closed after record rainfall (and related runoff) weakened a bridge along the route. But the change worked out wonderfully for our pregnant mamas and families with very small children.

The series was lovely, and our company wonderful, but the girls informed me this week that they're ready to do somethings without friends along. "We used to do a lot more just with our family," E said. "Can we do that again?" And so it shall be.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stinson Beach Love Affair

Oh, Stinson Beach. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways (at least this summer's version). We left out a lot this quick-turnaround trip - we missed Bozy, and Table Rock, and the Rocks at the End of the Beach, and, and, and...

But we did get to see some of our favorite people, take a trip to The City via ferry, visit the Mechanical Musee, find chocolate, play on the beach. Just a few shots of some of this trip's adventures.

RV Parks With or Without Kids - The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Ugly

Life seems so up in the air right now after six months of showing our home, two terrible offers, and kids' belongings stored in the garage while they grow out of them. (We really thought this was going to go a lot more smoothly.) As we head into a new academic year, I wonder how we'll "school" without messing the place. I suspect a house on the market is going to be far less appealing to a potential buyer if there's a science project growing on the kitchen counter, art history projects posted on every wall, and maps and books spread or piled on most other remaining surfaces. And do we sign up for a months-long session of dance then withdraw if the sale happens, or do we just wait on the sidelines as we hope for a reasonable buyer?

My solution: hit the road.

Since returning from our Big Trip in 2008, the girls and I have talked about the "other states." There were loads we missed  - Alaska, Hawaii and everything east of the Mighty Mississipp - and the girls are particularly keen on visiting the colonies about which they've already heard so much. (We don't follow the state's history standards, so they're a bit ahead of the curve in their knowledge of U.S. history.) As I watch their interest wane in early-childhood things, I see more clearly than ever the need to grab these moments when we can. I suspect it won't be long before our girls will be involved in so many things here at home that they'll lose interest in seeing the world. In 2012, for instance, the oldest plans to try out for The Nutcracker Ballet. She can only take part if we're home Thanksgiving week (thanks to a crazy rehearsal schedule...really, folks? These are KIDS!), and 2012 will be our Home For Thanksgiving Year. Then come those teen years.

So I've been putting out feelers, reading up on options, perusing maps (OK, studying maps...I love maps), and querying everyone who may ever have stepped foot across that big river. Where should we go? What should we see? What's NOT to be missed and, more importantly, which local secrets, byways and greasy spoons are key to this adventure? And where are the good camping spots?

An interesting thing happens when you leave "good camping spots" undefined. I first discovered this in college while camping with my boyfriend. He'd said his family camped a lot when he was a kid, so I assumed they camped like we did - in a tent, in the woods, around a campfire, in all that Nature had to offer. But well after midnight on our first night out, as thunder cracked overhead and lightening lit up the tent, as the trees swayed overhead and the wind shook the tent, I learned that my brawny college man had, indeed, never camped as I had. His idea of camping involved RVs in a well-developed park.

A couple of years later, I joined another college friend and her family on a road trip to Canada. They were going to camp all the way north. After several KOA nights and city campground experiences, it was my turn to share with them my idea of camping. The experience in the wooded Yukon campground on the banks of a quiet lake far from highway and city noise opened a whole new world of travel to them.

All this said, it'll be no surprise to hear that I'm not a fan of RV parks in general for three reasons: they're expensive; they're generally crowded; and too many RV folks can be pretty darned inconsiderate with their generators. Until 2008, we camped in a tent. Setting up on an asphalt parking space is hardly comfortable, and even good dirt/grass buffer areas in most RV parks we've visited were hardly worth the expense; they just resulted in our door being located even closer to the aforementioned generators. These days, we hit the road with trailer, so the hard ground is no excuse. But our upgrade is little more than a glorified tent (fiberglass and on wheels, sure, but still no bathroom). Its walls are thin, and we spend most of our time outside.

We have, however, found a few pretty nice parks. In Kansas City, we stayed in a beautiful campground which was, essentially, an exclusive RV park. Had they known our trailer didn't have a bathroom, we wouldn't have been allowed in, though there were nice (hot showers, flush toilets and clean) bathrooms throughout the park. There was lots of grass, lots of shade, friendly people and a couple of playgrounds. Plus the camping spots were well spaced and generator rules apparently rigidly enforced.

The worst RV Park experience we had was in East St. Louis, Illinois. Sure, it's just across the river from St. Louis and there's a metrolink there, and there's nowhere near the heart of the city that can beat the price. Still, the neighborhood was clearly dangerous - there's razor wire surrounding the park to keep campers safe from locals. I'm pretty sure I was within seconds of being robbed on our walk back from the metrolink. The park also had its management issues, not the least was its decision to close its restrooms entirely for three days (rather than, say, do the work on half the restroom, then the other half). That's a serious issue for campers with no pits in their rigs. The shop only carried microwavable food (great, I guess, if you're in one of those big rigs, but not so great for the rest of us), and the only dining nearby was in a casino - no children allowed, even for a simple meal, and with no grocery stores nearby, our dinner was nearly a PB&J special complete with the last heels of the bread. But THAT'S when the park's highlights shone through - a neighboring camper in one of those behemoth mansions on wheels saw me making the sandwiches and invited us to join them for dinner - they'd been expecting their grandchildren, but a change in family plans meant just Grandma and Grandpa and all that food. They were Southern, and they weren't taking "no" for an answer - thank HEAVENS! Their dinner, and company, were the beacon that saved this RV park from the pit of despair.

So where will be staying on this trip as we take history and geography lessons back onto the road?Of course we'll be budget camping it. Chances are you won't find us in many RV parks, but I won't count them out altogether. After all, access to hot showers, pools, game rooms and lodges now and again is sometimes just what the camper ordered.

To read about other travelers' takes on RV Parks, check out this month's blogging carnival at Families On The Road.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gilroy Gardens with Grandpa

This summer, Grandpa invited us for another day of fun at Gilroy Gardens. The park continues to be a favorite for my girls, and, thereby, for me. In fact, my opinion remains the same as it did during our visits last year.

Thanks, Grandpa, for the fun family day out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just Us Chickens

We stuck around home most of the spring and summer, enjoying local company, friends, and activities that included horseback riding lessons for V, piano and ballet for E, and several 4H projects for E whose efforts led her to complete an award-winning 4H record book.

There was a dance recital (bad mom forgot the camera at home), and there was lots of backyard play. (Images removed)

And there was entertainment ala chicken: chicks have become teens and are making themselves quite as home. They're about working age now, so we're awaiting their first eggs. Pay up, chicky chickies!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hitting the Trail, Horsey Style

We spent the winter and spring getting to know Maddie. In June, we packed our camping gear, packing gear and horse into the trailer and headed to Santa Margarita Lake for our backcountry test run. I'd ridden the route with her a week earlier, and the weather and scenery were wonderful, particularly for so late in the season. The wildflowers were still popping, and it was almost June.

There's a reason the wildflowers stuck around so long this year, and we had the opportunity to enjoy it in full during our maiden packing voyage. A record June rainfall ensured full training for all on this trip which was, otherwise, a complete success. Mattie is trail ready, even with those neon-orange, noisy nylon packs fully loaded. We await a crupper and chest strap which we hope will arrive before we hit the trail again in August - for the Sierra!

La Purisima Mission, Lompoc
We've also been enjoying more family hikes out, alternating riding and hiking. La Purisima Mission State Park is becoming a local favorite - lots of trails to ride, picnic spots, wildflowers, shade trees and wild animals to enjoy.

And as if riding the trails, riding the arena and packing weren't enough, the girls and I also tried our hands at vaulting recently. I've picked up my freelance writing efforts this year to
cover the cost of Maddie's maintenance, and the local paper was interested in this feature.

As usual, the girls joined me for the interview. When we'd wrapped up the work, the girls and I were all invited to give it a shot. V's hooked.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Live Oak Way

In 2003, when V was still just a wee baby, the girls and I had our first taste of the Central Coast's biggest, live, single-weekend event - Live Oak Music Festival. I purchased the Friday evening pass to check it out, but at the gate they'd run out of the Friday wristband, so opted to give me the full-weekend pass. We had a family gathering slated in SLO County Saturday, so we headed home late Friday evening. But Sunday morning saw us back at the dusty, hot, musical extravaganza, and we've returned most years for the full festival weekend, complete with camping. (You can read about 2008 here, and 2009 here.)

It's not an inexpensive festival. A family shells out a few hundred bucks for the priviledge of camping side-by-side, tent-to-tent with thousands of their "closets friends." But the weekend pass and related expenses benefit our local public radio station, and also buys hours of entertainment, featuring musical performances throughout the day from 9 a.m. until after midnight. Plus there's the kids' area, thankfully placed in line with the stage so parents like me who look after their children don't miss a moment of the musical action, and there are crafts for kids and adults alike, artists on display, and a variety of vendors including healthy eateries and snack spots. The volunteers are friendly and the overall vibe is relaxed and friendly.

Last year, in an effort to help save money for our Kauai vacation, we opted to skip Live Oak for the first time in 7 years. But even with their Live Oak memory nearly two years old this year, the girls were still talking about the festival, and planning ahead for their next weekend in the dirt. In fact, they even began raising their own money so they'd have some to spend at the vendors.

They made a small fortune with their pre-festival lemonade stand which featured not only homemade lemonade and brownies, but also their handmade crafts: necklaces, bracelets, rings, bookmarks and greeting cards. The Saturday morning event pulled in garage salers cruising the neighborhood for deals, neighbors, and friends who'd caught wind of the event. One couple pulled over to donate cash to the cause simply because they appreciated the entrepreneurial effort, and the creative flag waving into which the girls threw their energy during the last hour.

Live Oak Friends and Neighbors
We typically arrive at Live Oak one day before the gates open. There's a pre-party, of sorts, in the parking lot where early arrivals line up for early access to the campground which is already largely dominated by volunteers who setup their camps, and their incoming friends' camps. While packed onto the dirt staging area within feet of each other, campers get to know their one-night neighbors, meet up with old friends and wander from one jam session to another. This year, we brought chili to share with some of our Live Oak friends. (They provided the wine.) Others provide stew to any passers by in trade for beer, music or a good story. A giant sycamore tree at the front of the line provides shade for a jam circle or two.

This year, we were 13th in line, almost our earliest arrival. (We were only a few cars behind a long-time friend who, for years, scored the first-car slot.) Within minutes of arrival, we ran into a pair of now-teenage girls with whom E and V had spent much of the festival two years prior. Once we placed each other (the teens didn't recognize me, but immediately remembered the girls when they popped out of the van), one of the girls trotted away. A few minutes later she returned with a visor V had left in their camper. The teens had held onto the visor for two years, carting it to Live Oak with the belief that they'd see us again. THAT is the Live Oak way.

By arriving early, we'd hoped to return to a shady spot away from the teeming masses. But even with a spot so high in line, we were thwarted; some of the volunteers who were granted early arrival priviledges (in trade for the hours upon hours of work they do to prep the grounds) had taken over that entire corner of the campground. So, back out to the main drag we went, and ultimately found ourselves parked at one of the major pedestrian crossroads of the campground.

I was a little disappointed at first. This area is notoriously loud, particularly Saturday night when stages on both ends of the campground are running simultaneously. But it turned out to be among my favorite spots. The girls are just the right age to be in a social spot; the trailer drew a lot of
interest (funky is TOTALLY in vogue at Live Oak); and the noise wasn't that bad since the girls and I didn't even try to sleep through it this year - bedtime, shmedtime!

The girls quickly made friend with a little girl camped about 15 feet from our door. By Saturday night, her parents and I had visited enough that they felt comfortable leaving her to play with my girls while I watched them. (The concerts are all broadcast throughout the camp on super-short-range FM radio, so I wasn't going to miss anything, and I knew it was a band my girls wouldn't enjoy.) They played with the bubble treasure box that Aunty B brought with her during the 2009 festival (and left behind for us to share again), then moved on to creating their own light show with glow sticks.

As the three little girls stood back to back in the pitch dark waving their sticks to a blur, passers by offered words of appreciation for their creativity. One man brought me a new candle for my lantern so I wouldn't be sitting in the dark anymore. A young adult couple stopped by to try the bubble treasure chest again in the dark - because they just wanted to know what blowing bubble after dark would be like.

So, sure, it's an expensive weekend. But the memories are priceless. Next year: more lemonade and craft stands.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eine Kleine Catchup Musik

OK, so there's no music, nor is there any of the red tomato substance, but there IS a little bit of catchup coming your way. The title merely tells you how punchy I am as I type this at the ripe old hour of 9:30 p.m. That's right, it's early by many people's standards, and very early by my typical schedule, but with "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County - SECOND EDITION," (WOO HOO!) still hangin' out on the printing press, my nights have suddenly involved (GASP!) sleep! That means less time online.

Add to that the state of my desktop computer. It has built two books and countless newspaper articles, plus more words than I care to count in this blogging effort. For years, it worked just fine with the camera and external drive, but sometime last year it decided the external drive was something it would rather scramble that use cooperatively. I hate to think how many photos were lost before I figured out the two really weren't ever going to get along again. But now I depend upon Mr. B's computer (the newfangled one that Microsoft made obsolete within a month of its purchase - thanks for the heads up, Mr. Gates) to download the camera and upload to the Internet. While I know more than a few of you believe I'm pretty bossy, but if you think I'm going to kick a working man off HIS computer during HIS playtime, then I really need to work on my public image.

Let's get this update show on the road.

I'm backtracking to E's birthday because I'm amazed that she's already into the double digits, and I know some of the family would be interested in seeing photos from her day. I know, they're a little behind. I blame technology. Of course, I can't blame technology for forgetting to give her the wrapped gift we'd had in the garage for months. Her birthday morning, she opened a gift from her Aunt Karen (a journal with a voice-activated lock), a couple of cards, and an envelope from us with a certificate announcing her registration for dance camp later this summer. It was an alright start to the day, but I could see she was a little disappointed with basically one immediately usable gift. But she bucked up just fine.

A week later, I remembered the surprise gift that still awaited, wrapped, in the garage.

Better late than never?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review by E: "Hear My Sorrow" (Deborah Hopkinson)

"Hear My Sorrow" by Deborah Hopkinson is the diary of Angela Denoto, a fictional Italian girl who works in a shirtwaist factory in America in 1909. She is in the strike against the different shirtwaist and cloak companies for better working conditions. Her older sister works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory when it burns down. Her sister was one of the survivors, but two of Angela's friends died in it. Angela was outside the building when it burned.

This book is part of the Dear America series which are fictional diaries based on historic events. Like all the Dear America books, this one is from the perspective of a girl. And like many of the books in the series, the girl is an immigrant. There is also a series called My America which are very much alike, but from a boy's point of view.

I think this book wouldn't be good for readers younger than age 10 because it does describe the fire and how the people were treated in the strike. Would be good for girls who like exciting books with tragedy. You don't have to like history, but it sort of makes you like history, so if you're set on not liking history, don't read it. Boys might find it interesting, but not as interesting as girls will because it's a girl's point of view.

Book Review by E: "Take Me With You" (Carolyn Marsden)

"Take Me With You" by Carolyn Marsden is a good book, but not super exciting. The story is about two 11-year-old girls, Pina and Susanna, who live in a convent in Italy. In the convent, the nuns take care of the children who were abandoned as babies after the war. Pina and Susanna have always been friends, but now that the war is over, they're trying to find their parents. Susanna's father finds them, but Pina still can't find her parents. The end of the story isn't very final. I don't really like it when that happens. If a good story really has to come to an end, I want it to have a conclusion, whether or not I like that ending.

This book is good for girls ages 8 to 13, but kids who are 11 would appreciate it most because they're the same age. There's nothing really for boys because they wouldn't be able to relate in any way, unless they're 11 and live in a convent. If you're not Christian you probably wouldn't appreciate it, either, because nuns are very Christian. There's nothing particularly scary, but there are some social issues that might be hard for a younger reader to understand. There's some peer pressure, but I don't think there's any bad language or name calling.

I liked it. It was very interesting. But it wouldn't be something I'd read over and over to catch the details I might have missed the first time because it wasn't very detailed. And I know how it's going to end, so I don't feel like I need to read it again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review by V: "Dealing with Dragons" (Patricia Wrede)

This is a very good book that is actually a pretty fast read. It's about a princess who gets bored when doing her chores and taking her classes. Then her family wants her to marry a prince who she does not like. So she runs away to the dragon's kingdom where she becomes a dragon's princess. But then wizards start attacking the dragons and the princess must stop the wizards, with the help of a witch and a few friends, before all the dragons are killed. This is the first book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and is listed as a young adult fantasy novel.

I'm 8 years old and a good reader. I think the book is good for readers 8 and older because it's a very interesting story about a teenage girl, but the dragons get angry and are scary and the wizards are very mean and there's some monsters in there that try to kill them.

I would recommend this book to boys and girls who have an interest in dragons, princesses and maybe even cats because the witch's house is full of cats.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review by V: "Ghost Dog Secrets" (Peg Kehret)

"Ghost Dog Secrets," by Peg Kehret is a very good book about a boy named Rusty who tries to save this dog whose owners do not take care of him, but leave him chained to a tree in the rain with no food or water. It's an adventure kind of mystery thing. Rusty has to save the dog by taking him to his secret fort with his friend, Andrew. But every time he goes to see the dog before he can take him to the secret fort, something that he cannot see touches him.

I think this book is appropriate reading for readers 8 and older because Rusty has to steal the dog and he has to keep it a secret from his mom and everyone else he knows. Younger kids might not understand the stealing or name calling. There is also Gerald who is a very mean boy.

I would recommend this book to boys and girls because it's about a boy, but it's interesting to me and I'm a girl. The reader should have an interest in dogs, mysteries and secrets and ghosts.

Book Review by E: "The Thirteenth Princess" (Diane Zahler)

I read the first couple of chapters a few months ago while I was at the library, but I didn't get to finish it that day. This week, I looked for it again so I could bring it home because I wanted to find out what would happen. The author roped me in quickly and I just had to know what happened!

"The Thirteenth Princess" is kind of a retelling of the classic fairytale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," but in this version there was one more princess and when her father found out she wasn't a boy, he sent her to be a scullery maid. Her sisters all know she's a princess and let her sleep with them every Sunday, but then the first twelve start to get sick because they're all so tired and they hardly eat and can't pay attention, but the thirteenth princess discovers the real source of their "illness."

This book is definitely for girls, probably ages 9 to 13. Younger kids might like it, but there are some scary parts involving potential tragedy, deep enchantments, and evil people. There's some light name calling, but only in teasing.

Book Review by E: "Alanna, The First Adventure" (Tamora Pierce)

"Alanna, The First Adventure" is the first in the "Song of the Lioness" series by Tamora Pierce. It's about a girl who wants to be a knight in a mythical world where the gods are magical. Her father wants to send her to a convent to become a lady. He wants to send her brother to become a knight, but the brother wants to receive the magical training the convent provides boys. So the kids trade places so each of their dreams can come true. But being a knight turns out to be a lot more difficult than she had expected.

This story seems geared more toward girls because it follows Alanna's story, not really her brother's story. The book is probably good for readers ages 9 and older. Some adults may also enjoy it. It's not really appropriate for younger children because there's fighting and name calling.

I would recommend this book to adventurous girls who aren't in a hurry. It's not a quick read and there are some pretty big words. If you were just getting into chapter books, you probably wouldn't understand most of it.

Since the book was first published in 1983, the cover art has varied. So make sure you're spelling the title correctly when you type it in the library or internet search tool. You can read more about the book at the author's website here. Here are some of the covers, but go to her website if you want to see them all:

Book Review by E: "The Night Fairy" (Laura Amy Schlitz)

"The Night Fairy" was a very good book, especially for young girls. It's a quick read about a fairy who is born an hour before midnight, but she loses her wings and has to survive in the garden of a human. She is used to being out at nigh,t but she has to become a daytime fairy to survive the nighttime creatures.

I would say the book is appropriate for ages 6 to 12. There aren't any really big words, but it's not a super-low reading level either.

There's not really anything scary or rude about this book. There's a spider who threatens to eat the hummingbird, and a squirrel who could use some manners, but other than that, it's pretty tame.

There may be some boys who would be interested in this book, but since it's about fairies, and more specifically a girl fairy, girls may be more attracted to the story.

I would recommend this book to young readers who are interested in fairies that aren't particularly glittery.

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