Saturday, March 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Dear William. Happy Birthday to You!

How do you celebrate a road-trip birthday? The possibilities are wide open, especially here in Monterey, where there are sights and activities galore! I don't often use the word 'galore.' Hmmm. William has been a low-key birthday boy from the beginning, choosing quiet family gatherings and outings over big themes and hoopla. We have yet to hear one request or suggestion or demand or make my material dreams come true. Our 17 year old son is happy to enjoy a family hike, crossing icy cold creeks, sitting on moss covered logs and sharing a rustic, impromptu picnic of apples, cheese, bread and berry juice. Our first born would love some Lego bricks, I'd guess, and... well, we'll see.

Yesterday was recordable... like, it would have been great to have the day filmed, so we could revisit it again and again. We drove up the 1 from San Simeon, passing cows and ruggedly cut seashore, crossing old bridges and enviable homes with barns and long white fences. It was overcast and sometimes foggy. No traffic. No rush or discomfort.

The best road trips must include stops. Unplanned stops. It's about discovery. Discovery is wonderful, when it includes scenes like this. It turns out there were many opportunities to pull over and see elephant seals. I am so glad we took the first opportunity. These elephant seals were such an awesome sight we wished for chairs, so we could sit the whole long day, watching the show. We walked up and down the bluff observing the cows and bulls napping, and swimming up to the shore. They were yawning, snuffling, sneezing, stretching, scratching, snoring and sometimes gazing at us curiously. Alex and I were trying to recall all the elephant seal facts we had retained from some "Nature" episode we saw last Summer. They can run surprisingly fast... was it up to 15 miles per hour? Something like that, at any rate we were glad to be on top of the bluff, a safe distance from 5,000 pound bull elephants with fresh battle scars.

These drowsy beach nappers were huge and strange, and familiar too. Their flippers were so much like hands we could distinguish finger like appendages beneath the skin. We discussed their evolution. Were they land animals that adapted to the sea, or are they sea animals that are evolving to live on land?

With some reluctance, we got back in the Conestoga and moved forward to the state park we have been aching to share with Geoff. Nestled along the Big Sur coast is wonderful trail that begins at the ocean and climbs and climbs through fern and clover, shaded by redwoods and cooled by a roaring creek. It is our favorite. I could live there. The children come alive there, climbing and running, sharing dreams and visions, speculating on inventions, theories and lore. We saw blackberry canes and banana slugs, pretty stones, moss, lichen, delicate flowers and Hobbits, elves, singing rabbits and fairy huts. Yea, it's enchanted.

There wasn't a bridge at every crossing. Oh, that water is cold! It took my feet all day to recover. Geoff and William have actual Hobbit feet and seemed unaffected, which why they were lucky and ambitious enough to see the 110' waterfalls at the end of one trail.

Alex, Max, Maria and I sat together trying to dry and warm our legs. We sat on a huge boulder that hung over a section of the creek. It was wonderful. I know we will go back there, camp and hike and explore for days.

It was worthwhile packing in a refreshing picnic snack, and we enjoyed it together at the end of another trail. As we sat here, we thought about the enterprising people that were working in this remote spot in the 1880's. We could almost imagine the challenges and pleasures of being there, picnicking and exploring more than 100 years ago.

Ah, back to the present. It's time to pull up stakes and vacate our room. A new adventure awaits!

Friday, February 29, 2008

San Simeon

You know, I don't think we are going to get as for north as we thought when we initially discussed this adventure. No matter. We are filling our days with beautiful sights, leisurely explores and unexpected detours...

"Have you ever been to the Reagan Library?" Stan asked.

No. No, we have never been to a Reagan anything. It seemed enough just living through the Reagan years. Through Reagonmics and the trickle down theory. Through ketchup is a vegetable, in school lunches. "Just say No," I thought to myself.

It turns out Stan makes good donuts, he's friendly, a successful homeschooling parent and he is sincerely persuasive. He talked about history and Air Force One, and Hollywood and Air Force One. I think it was the opportunity to walk through the great, big, huge Presidential, flying limo that convinced me that the Reagan Presidential Library might be worth visiting.

Ivory Elephant with Jewels, from King of Thailand.

Visiting the Library was unexpected, uncharacteristic and surprisingly worthwhile. I really do not want to make political statements, or declarations. I think it is sufficient to say that I did not remember him, the Reagan Years, so fondly. But the Library was an amazing look at the history and context of the highest office in our country and gave me perspective for our nation's timeline and my own timeline. When Reagan was President I was old enough to appreciate soundbites and the other stuff required to get through school, but I lacked the interest and the perspective to see the big picture.

Our visit wasn't quite long enough to completely absorb all of the history and political intricacies, for complete comprehension, but hey, I got to see Nancy Reagan's wardrobe! OKay, seriously, it was amazing seeing the gifts from other countries to Ron and Nancy, to see the Oval office, and a part of the Berlin Wall. It was good to have tangible evidence of these topics to point out to the boys, to explain about the history of The Cold War, and the policy of Presidents not keeping gifts from heads of state.

And there was Air Force One. The whole thing, the one flown in by Presidents since 1973... Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and W. Bush. All those air miles, all that history. So cool. It was taken apart, transported and reassembled inside the Library. We walked all around and under it, then through it, and you know what? It was very... very... it was modest. It was not fancy. No fine finishes or designer pillows. No gold trimmed light fixtures or elaborate high-tech entertainment centers. It was functional, comfortable and rather egalitarian. Clearly it's an improvement over economy class, but I think we expect some upgrades for the President of the United States.

People are interesting. Our stories are interesting. When we take the time to listen, when we pay attention to the influences and experiences of an individual, it can be enlightening and it can give insight. Listening, learning and even gaining appreciation does not have to mean changing our values or beliefs. Visiting the Reagan Presidential Library was good, affordable, visually stunning (the setting in the Simi Valley is beautiful) and we learned about a man that did some interesting things in his lifetime.

Time to greet the brand new day! We stopped in San Simeon, not wanting to rush through Big Sur. So, today we have plenty of time for beach walks and other explores of this beautiful coast. We can't wait for our hike in the redwoods. We get to introduce Geoff to our favorite trail, and then we'll keep moving north and maybe we will see Bill, Alison and Dominic before nightfall.

Update: It takes a l o n g time for 6 people to rise, shine, shower, shave, roll sleeping bags, corral dirty socks and load the Conestoga.

I thought this post was missing something and I think the something may be a bow of reverence for God and nature and all of the splendid views we have been loving. Truly, the hills, the trees, the sky... everything has been amazing. Last week's rain and this week's sun have been the catalyst for miles and miles of bright green hills, rolling and sweeping, and dashed with riots of color. Big swashes of orange poppies and breezy yellow mustard blossoms. Along the roadside we've seen purple lupine, growing in deep and broad bunches. I love the barns and hollows, the creek beds and cow-cut paths that stripe the steep hillsides. I love the hawks, the heron, the sound of frog symphonies playing in the river valleys.

Last night we enjoyed a sunset beach walk, climbing over drift wood, skipping stones in the creek and following the flitting, darting bats. After the walk we sat together, under stars and satellites, in front of a cheerful fire provided by the hotel. Even now, through low clouds and fog, I can hear the surf, and I feel a content sense of anticipation and gratitude, a quiet bliss. It is a good morning.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Do you ever travel, go to bed and then wake-up and for just a moment forget where you are? New bed, strange room... where am I?

It didn't happen to me. I woke-up with Maria firmly pressed against my side, clinging to the edge of a queen size hotel bed. It's too early to rouse children, so I slipped over to the desk where Geoff had the laptop set-up and I read some news and blogs. Then, suddenly, hearing the steady hum of traffic outside the window, a thought crept into my head: Delayed Disorientation. Where are we? A hotel, yes, but in what city or town? How far did we drive? Where did we stop? Not Santa Barbara or Simi Valley. Further than Solvang, Nipomo, Pismo Beach. Aha! SLO. San Luis Obispo. That was weird. I am usually keenly aware of my locale.

We definitely were not aiming for an arduous drive, or hard push northward. We made sufficient progress and we made interesting stops. Unexpected and interesting.

So, there's this exit that I know of that always works for a rest stop. It has a great book shop with clean bathrooms and it's open late and in a safe neighborhood. This same lucky exit also has affordable gas, a AAA office, a Whole Foods market and one more thing, Stan's. Stan's is legendary. We are talking donuts and service... friendly, neighborly, genuine, warm, helpful service. The donuts are genuine too, made with quality ingredients, which is the best way to get your sugar fix. OKay, seriously, we go for the friendly service. I travel this route at least once a year and usually without Geoff, so I really appreciate having nice, safe and welcoming places to pull off the interstate.

We've been 4 times now, and I am going to just assume that the guy behind the counter is Stan. Or he's Stan junior, because this place has been around a long time, so let's just call him Stan. The first time I was there Maria was a baby in my arms and the boys were in the car, so Stan insisted on carrying the warm baked goodies and cold milk to the car for me. He had a line of customers, but he did me this sweet favor, like I was a longtime, regular patron, like a friend of the family. And the other two times he was just as nice, chatting amiably, offering suggestions, relaxed and engaged. People seem as happy for the visit as the product. We were eager to introduce Geoff to Stan's, the small town and neighborly donut shop in the big city.

As we stood in glazed wonderment, drooling on the display case, Stan tried to figure out our party of 6. William, taller than his dad, and Maria still hitching rides on Geoff's shoulders... Stan was impressed with our large-ish family, and then he guessed we homeschool too. He was delighted to hear us confirm his guess, and he shared the fact that he had 3 grown daughters that were homeschooled too! "It's the greatest," he declared happily. He liked our no agendas, take it easy game plan, and he asked, "Have you ever been to the Reagan Library?"

To be continued...
What? It's breakfast time down in the lobby and with four kids to feed, we can't afford to be late for the free buffet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Our early departure did not happen. It's okay. It's even good that we stayed home an extra day, before driving up the coast, then heading to the Midwest. So, rather than leaving yesterday, we are leaving this morning.
I'll let Geoff sleep as late as he needs to, and then we will climb into our vacation-mobile, which is already overloaded packed, and we will head out into traffic onto the open road. We are seeking our destiny. About the only thing I am sure of is that the pets will be well cared for, otherwise we have no game plan. We know which day to be at the airport, and we have a dinner date in the Chicago area. Everything else is a bit sketchy. This could be fun... or something.

For his Grandpa Corm's memorial, Alex drew an invention. It is in honor of Corm's brief career as a Good Humor Man, selling ice cream, and it is meant to recognize his grandfather's mechanical skills. I really should have Alex do this write-up, so he can explain it properly. Every gear and lever has a purpose, and by the time he describes it, you can't help but believe that this machine actually would make waffle cones and ice-cream and dispense them both, efficiently, and delightfully.

Well, I guess I should start turning on some lights, playing some music. No time like the present, when thinking of searching for your destiny. We have short term goals, like finding fresh berries at roadside stands and farmer's markets, we have next week goals, like playing in freshly falling snow. And we have big dreams: Finding a home to call our own, space to make our mark, a somewhere to hope for and focus on. And, of course, we want to enjoy the ride!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Aloha Colors
Today it is gray and cold in So Cal, which is fine for a day dedicated to house cleaning and packing for the next adventure. Before tackling laundry and finding a place for this and spot for those, I will share some color from the beautiful Hamakua Coast.

Colors, shapes, texture... if only you could feel the breeze and smell the guavas and fresh cut cane grass.

The vine is growing strong, making a windbreak between the house and the garden shed. Such a color contrast with the orange and candy purple.

I wish I knew the name of the orchids used in this amazingl lei. Geoff gave it to me for Valentine's day. It looks delicate and yet it was surprisingly heavy and sturdy.
The flowers make a beautiful pattern and fit together like an origami puzzle.

These tiny clover-like flowers were all over the lawn. The head of each blossom was smaller than a dime.

The hibiscus are much bigger... as big as a bright and smiling face.

The lei lasted many days and was still lovely and fresh when I left it on the fence post... my fond aloha to this magical place.

Even the spiders are beautiful, colorful and engaging, and there are no poisonous spiders in Hawaii.

Some leis are made from ti leaves. I have only seen green ti leave leis. This plant would make a very special lei.

No time for day dreaming now. We will be in Chicago next week, and there's lots to do until then.