Sunday, August 28, 2011

Got Mono?

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Some people describe seasons by their weather: precipitation, temperature, wind. We describe Sierra Nevada weather in terms of insects and other natural phenomena. Sure, there's snow in winter. Spring we describe in terms of which wildflowers are in bloom at various elevations. Then comes summer, the seasons of bugs. Yep, summer offers more than one insect season. We generally measure it in terms of mosquitoes and yellowjackets, our main nemeses.

Last week's adventure up Helms Meadow was clearly during the height of mosquito season. While meadows are typically rife with the bloodsuckers, the peak of the season brings mosquitoes out on sunny patches, even into breezy spots, anywhere within eyeshot of a meadow.

Yellowjacket season typically follows close on the heels of mosquito season. So as we returned to the Sierra this past week for a few more days in paradise, I expected to battle with the biters for my meats and sweets.

We lucked out.

Mono offered only a handful of mosquitoes - I came home with one bite, the girls with none, after four days in camp. And the yellowjackets steered entirely clear. BONUS!

The nieces and nephews may argue the point. They attracted all sorts of critters I'd never seen before. One was nipped by a big insect that looked strangely like a very large dragonfly, but it was well after dark and the critter seemed attracted to the camp light. Another night brought a visit from a scorpion - my first such sighting in several years camping in this area.

The river level was ideal for floating with (and sometimes without) kids. The river water was downright frigid, but the hot springs made up for it. The kids had some fantastic fishing luck. And our traditional hike to Doris Lake was lovely. It was great having so many water safe kids up there this time; made for a much more relaxing day for all involved. And my brother and I capped off the experience by jumping from Eagle Rock, my highest jump ever and certainly the highest jump I will ever make intentionally. At 55 feet, it was downright scary, but exhilarating and particularly fun when jumped side by side with him. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of the jump, and many of the kids didn't see it (we weren't even sure we were going to do it when we hiked up there, though Bro's done it on a couple of other occasions).

Now home to rest, and wrap up loose ends, and pack.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review by E: "The Starving Time: Elizabeth's Diary Book Two, Jamestown, Virginia 1609" (Patricia Hermes)

This book is is one in the "My America" series, which is like the "Dear America" series but for younger readers. Both series are historical fiction about various periods in American history told in diary form. I've read almost all of the "Dear America" series and a couple of the "My America" series, so I thought I'd like this book as soon as I picked it up.

"The Starving Time" is the diary of a fictional girl named Elizabeth. It represents the period of history after the "Mayflower" passengers arrived in America. It's a story about the challenges the Pilgrims faced and the hope that carried them through a winter of hunger, disease and death.

I like historical fiction and I like this time period in particular because I find it interesting. Boys might be interested in this book, but there are probably more appropriate books for boys about this time period. For similar stories told from a boy's perspective, check out the "My Name Is America" series.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review by V & E: "The Amulet of Komondor" (Adam Osterweil)

V says: "The Amulet of Komondor" is a really good book. It's a fictional story about a computer game that's based off a card game, but when you turn on the computer game, you get sucked into it so you're actually the person in there. So you can feel yourself and you're not just seeing the game on the screen. You're surrounded: surround sound, surround sight. I think I liked it because it's an adventure that drew me in. You can't judge the story by it's name and cover because the title doesn't sound that great. I picked up the book because we were in a hurry to leave the library and I was just grabbing books off the shelves. I randomly grabbed this one up, and I'm glad I did.

This book is good for boys and girls who are interested in adventures. The dragon on the cover makes you think it might be a dragon story, but the dragon is just a small part of the story. The story includes fighting (mostly just odd magical spells), magical creatures and monsters who call each other names that might not be appropriate for younger kids. (I'm 8.) There are some big words, but not a lot.

E says: I really liked this story because it was captivating and unique and very imaginative. There are boyfriends and girlfriends in the story, but that's not critical to the story. It had some good plot twists and it would be difficult to compare with any other book because it's so much different from anything I've ever read. It's fiction, but it could go with science fiction. Both boys and girls would enjoy this book because it follows both a boy and a girl. The writing is for a lower reading level, but the story makes up for it.

On the Road Again: East Coast, Here We Come!

Yep, we're hitting the road again. The house has shown lots of times, but the economy doesn't seem to support its sale at a price that will get us where we want to be. Still, we continue showing and hoping, and leaving the house in show condition. That means no science projects sitting out, not much kid art on the walls, and kid toys sadly stowed away in the garage. And with the traditional academic year upon us, that also means finding a way to provide some directed learning while maintaining the house in this form.

So...we're headed east to study history and geography, botany and topography in an entirely hands-on lesson. Should take us about 10 weeks, give or take, and we're kicking it off with a quick visit to Utah. We'd love to stay longer, but the world is a giant place, and we're headed to the other side of the continent this trip.

Here's the general plan.
Mr. B will tend to animals and duties at home. Maddie's previous owner will help keep her in shape. Mr. B will join us in Florida. And we have friends and/or relatives to see in Utah, Virginia, Louisiana and Texas.

Trip kicks of Tuesday, Aug. 30. Itinerary generally includes:
- Brigham City, Utah - family
- St. Louis, MO - Gateway Arch & Museum of Westward Expansion, Forest Park (museums, park, forest, zoo), Turtle Park, City Circus, Riverboat(?)
- Louisville, KY - Churchill Downs & Museum
- Lexington, KY - International Museum of the Horse
- Monongahela National Forest, WV
- Fallingwater, PA - F.L. Wright home
- Lake Erie, NY
- Niagara Falls, NY
- Strong Museum (National Museum of Play), NY 
- Seneca Falls, NY - National Women's Rights Historical Park, Tubman Home
- Adirondacks, NY
- Stowe, VT
- Sebago Lake State Park, ME
- Acadia National Park, ME
- Longfellow House
- Kennebunkport, ME
- Salem, MA
- Minuteman National Historic Park (Northbridge), MA
- Walden Pond
- Boston, MA - lots to see
- Standish State Forest, MA
- Plimouth Plantation, MA
- Cape Cod Bay, MA
- Naragansett Monument, R.I.
- Burlingame State Park, R.I. 
- Westerley, R.I. - Flying Horse Carousel
- Mystic, CT
- Old Saybrook, CT - James Soda Fountain
- New Haven, CT - Yale
- New Hope, PA - Mule barges and canals
- Washington Crossing Parks
- Philadelphia, PA - lots o' stuff
- Valley Forge, PA
- French Creek State Park, PA
- Intercourse, PA - Amish Country
- Hershey, PA - chocolate, of course
- Gettysburg, PA - Gettysburg National Military Park
- Haymarket, VA - visiting friends  
- Washington, D.C. - are you kiddin' me? We could spend a lifetime here and still not get through the Smithsonian, let alone all the other great stuff here!
- Assateague Island, MD
- Williamsburg Colony, VA
- Jamestown Colony, VA
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC
- Ft. Sumter National Monument and Visitors Center, NC
- Fort Pulaski, NC
- Anastasia State Park, FL
- Disneyworld, FL
- Orlando, FL - Universal's Hogwarts and the rest of the park, too 
- Merritt Island, FL - Kennedy Space Center
- Jon Dickson State Park, FL
- Florida Keys
- Flamingo, FL
- Everglades, FL - Shark Valley
- Sanibel, FL
- Captiva, FL
- Manatee State Park, FL
- Evonfina, FL
- Wakulla Springs, FL
- Curtis Mill State Park, FL
- Grayton Beach State Park, FL
- Belle Chasse, LA - visiting friends
- New Orleans, LA
- Austin, TX - visiting relatives
- El Paso, TX - visiting friends
- Quartzite, AZ - meeting Families On the Road

Should be home in 10 weeks, hardly enough time to do this trip justice. But the girls want to see both Maine and Florida and lots of spots in between. And there's only so much time in our human lives, so we'll see what we can this go round. Maybe we'll return another time to our favorites - or win the lottery so we can save a lot of the drive time by flying (and staying in the luxury of hotels).

For now, we do what we can, and we're thrilled!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review by E: "Portaits: Dancing Through Fire" (Kathryn Lasky)

I really, really liked this book! "Dancing Through Fire" is a captivating story about a 13-year-old dancer in France during the Franco-Prussian War. The main character is a student at the Paris Opera Ballet. She wants to advance, but she's not tall enough. But when war breaks out, she finds out that there is life beyond ballet.

ImageIf you've been reading my reviews, you know I'm a dance fanatic and I like historical fiction. I also like art, so this story is an obvious choice for me. "Dancing Through Fire" is based on painter Edgar Degas' painting  L'etoile (La danseuse sur la scene) [The Star (Dancer on Stage)] which he made in 1878.

Of course, it all depends upon the reader, but I think this book is good for readers ages 10 to 15. There's some scary parts and death, but nothing very inappropriate given that the story is about wartime. But war is not the central focus of the story, and author leaves the reader satisfied in the end.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Sierra Horse Packing Trip: Helms Meadow and Beyond

We've visited all of the western sates, and there are so many beautiful places. But the Sierra Nevada always gets me. It's truly heaven on earth - mountains, trees, fresh air, lakes, creeks, waterfalls. What's not to like?

OK, this year, the bugs were an issue - specifically those blood-suckin' mosquitoes. And where the mosquitoes quit, the black flies began. The only exception was along lake shores when the wind was up enough to keep the little frackasses busy.

We packed up the horse, Maddie, and all her gear and ours Saturday morning and headed out for the 6-hour drive to the trail head. We made only one significant stop (for lunch and horse watering), and Maddie did really well. She rode quietly and didn't flee from the trailer upon arrival at the campground, so the ride must've been OK.

After camping at the trail head Saturday night, we packed the gear again and hit the trail near Trapper Springs Campground on the west side of Courtright Reservoir.

The trail was fairly easy for the first five miles or so, including a spectacular walk through Helms Meadow where the wildflowers were poppin' and the views of Dogtooth Peak where out of this world. But perhaps a little over a mile past the meadow, the trail markings weren't quite so clear, and the trail itself was grown over or blocked by fallen trees more often than not. Old blazes had long grown to pretty well-healed (nearly invisible) scars. Even with the GPS and topo maps in hand, we found following the trail difficult. And blazing our own trail with a horse packed for bear (VERY wide horse) was time consuming given all the fallen wood and dense forest.

We worked our way past the trail head to East Lake, then opted to backtrack a bit to a granite slab where we made camp for two nights. We knew we could make it to our intended location nearly 2 miles away if we worked at it, but the old folks and the horse in our party were all tired - particularly tired of backtracking and circling in efforts to stay on the trail. AND we knew that we'd probably have the same issues on our departure day - no fun!

So granite slab it was. We aimed for the mineral soil and slab because we'd noticed throughout our hike that these spots had fewer mosquitoes than another spots along the trail. Still, we used more insect repellent on this trip than any two trips combined and still came home looking like chicken pox clinic refugees.

Monday, I took a pretty short ride up the hill to East Lake. The GPS noted it was "only" 3/4 mile, so I saddled Maddie and off we went. It took us awhile to come upon the proper trail which we ultimately followed to the east side of the lake (the swimmin' rock side). There was a nice little meadow there for her to enjoy while I took a dip and some photos, missed my dad and missed Grandma Kathy, then opted to spend that time remembering great pasts rather than regretting their absence at the moment.
Such great memories here - lots of laughs, for sure! After Maddie tanked up on lake water, we headed back down the mountain, this time following the trail all the way back to camp. Someone has done a LOT of work maintaining the markings on this trail, including cairns, fallen branches lining the walk, rocks marking the path over granite slabs. But all these are quite temporary, and I didn't notice more permanent - like blazes.

Tuesday we decided to walk part way back toward the trail head and find a spot along Courtright Reservoir's northern shore (still in the wilderness area). The idea was that our walk out would be shorter the following day, thereby making the day that would ALSO include the 6-hour drive home more tolerable. It would also get us on a lake where V (OK, and Mr. B and I) could cast a line. The hike down was especially fun for me where the Helms Meadow trail disappeared. Rather than continue looping and spinning through the trees trying to find a route wide enough for packed horse, she and I enjoyed a nice creek walk while the little people and their dad had a fairly straightforward walk along the bank. The water was cool but not cold, refreshing, and SO clear! We spotted lots of fish along the way before finally returning to the Helms Meadow trail where it re-emerged along the bank.

We came upon a really nice, well-established camp at the mouth of Helms Creek where the fishing was fantastic! V and her spinning/fly combo setup didn't get any bites (can't imagine why, though), and Mr. B's similar setup brought in a couple of bites, but didn't reel any in.

Since I count Sierra seasons not by weather, but by bug life, I know that mosquito season is followed by "bee" season. Yellowjackets come out en masse, I believe to gorge on the mosquitoes, late in the summer. With so many mosquitoes out, and the temperatures still warming, "bee" season must be just around the corner. So I decided to tie on an early season trout treat - a small "bee" fly. I cast a few times in an area that was more lake than creek, then Mr. B pointed me to the sweet spot where he'd had his nibbles. Sure enough - first cast I brought in a 14" trout! V helped me release it before my second cast brought in a smaller rainbow trout. The next big bite resulted in the loss of that little bee, and with mosquitoes doing their darnedest to suck V and me dry, we headed in for the night, happy as could be.

Prather, then the long slog home.

It was a great escape to one of my favorite places in the Western U.S. We also learned a few lessons. Next time, bring the horse her own bug spray (big bottle), bring the horse's light blanket (forgot it in the trailer when we packed up at base camp), bring an extra set of shoes for each kid, too, and, for our family, probably don't plan on hiking more than 5 miles per day on a back country trail which is, more likely than not, going to disappear on us a time or fifty.

I can hardly wait to do it again!

Tiny Dancer

Our tiny dancer is growing up quickly. This summer, she again attended junior intensive dance camp for two weeks in Santa Barbara, a 120-mile daily commute well worth the effort. The camp gives her fantastic training in a wonderful setting surrounded by girls as crazy about dance as she is.

The two-week stint also gives V some one-on-one time. V chose our activities all but ONE of those 10 days. (My day involved enjoying a visit over coffee with an old friend and editor who lives and works down that way, then pitching SB County books in the 'hood).

And though they had only two weeks to pull it off, each dancer learned three dances plus a canon of skills for a total of four dances performed at a culminating recital. ALL of E's California grandparents were able to swing their various schedules to join her for her an Indian dinner, her special performance, plus an apr├Ęs-performance ice cream feast (but of course).

Book Review By E: "The Mermaid's Mirror" (L.K. Madigan)

"The Mermaid's Mirror" by L.K. Madigan is a good book probably best for teenagers. It's the story of a 16-year-old girl named Lena who discovers her mother was a mermaid. Then she has to decide whether to continue living with her dad on land or to live with her mother under the sea, where the girl has also made a special friend.

The story grabbed my attention because of the mermaids, but I can't relate much because the main character is 16 and I'm only 11. She has a boyfriend. Her parents don't live together and she has a stepmom. All of these things are a lot different from my life. But I still liked it. Maybe I shouldn't have been reading it this young. There might have been some kissing, but I don't see anything wrong with that. Maybe this book is better for someone older, but I liked it.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review by E: "Ribbons" (Laurence Yep)

"Ribbons," by Laurence Yep, is about an 11-year-old girl who lives in Los Angeles. Ballet is pretty much her life. She dances all the time. But when her parents decide to save up money to bring Grandma over from Hong Kong, they can't afford the girl's lessons anymore. This story is about the relationships between family members, cultural misunderstandings and learning to understand each other.

I really liked this book because I could totally relate. I'm also 11. I dance all the time. ALL. THE. TIME! But I think it's a very good, educational, quick read that would be good for girls like me. Boys probably wouldn't like it since it's about ballet. I think the book is for readers age 10 and older. Grownups might like it, too, but younger readers would be able to relate more.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review by E: "Bloomability" (Sharon Creech)

"Bloomability" is a very good book about a girl who travels to Italy against her will to attend her uncle's school. I liked the book because it grabbed my attention and held it clear to the end.There were believable conversations
between realistic characters. I could imagine that they were real people, for sure. There was a good balance between funny and serious bits. The ending to this book doesn't feel like an ending, but leaves room for pretty much a whole new story. It's supposed to leave room for your imagination, but it leaves too much room. It makes you want to read more!

For me, it was a pretty quick read. It's about a girl, so girls would probably be more interested, but boys might like the story, too, because it's not entirely about girls. One character is always whiny and indecisive. Otherwise, there isn't anything objectionable, although for younger kids it's kind of tense when some of the people in the story are stuck in an avalanche. I could have read it anytime from age 8 on, but it really depends upon what the child finds scary and reading skill.

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