Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Decade of Elizabeth

 Just like that, fresh from our trip, Ellie turned ten. It seems totally unbelievable how fast the time has gone, especially in the last few years (first few years, maybe not as quick moving.) She is really such a delight, and we're all so lucky to have her. 

She had a few days of celebrating - on Sunday we went over to Mimi and Poppy's house, where Mimi recreated an American Girl luncheon for all of us. Ellie was thrilled to get a new doll, and since Julie is a doll from the 1970s, she let Tim hold her in a family picture. I am holding my 1990 Samantha doll, which Ellie tells me is creepy. She doesn't know. Samantha is wearing her originally "Happy Birthday Samantha" outfit, minus the ribbon crown, which Ellie informed me that the cat ate.

We had a lovely luncheon, including a giant donut cake (the 1 of which I repurposed, along with a giant snickerdoodle cookie, for her actual birthday. Waste not, want not!)

For her birthday, Tim and I got her a new Samsung tablet, since her old one is very old and not great. Now she has a fresh piece of technology to use to rot her brain, and play Minecraft with her friends!

Ugh, I can't believe how grown up she is. 

After school, for her birthday we headed to the beach

And finished our evening with pizza and cake in the back yard, with the families. I'm really glad that even during COVID times everyone was able to be together (while also doing our best to be socially distant and not super spreaders.) We even brought the disco ball out for our dance party! 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Canyons and Craters

Originally, we had planned to go to the Grand Canyon as a spring break trip this year. That obviously got canceled, and we've been staying close to home pretty much since. However, as things begin to open up, as we learn how to navigate this new COVID universe, we were feeling like we could leave the house for a road trip. Ellie and her best girl Lexi are turning ten this month, ten days apart, and we decided that it would be awesome to get out of town for a bit, see some sights, and visit the Grand Canyon. Our original plan was to go glamping, but when we couldn't book the tents, we got ourselves a rental cabin and went from there. 

Lexi's family left earlier than us and visited grandparents in Phoenix, and we stopped at Joshua Tree on our way out to Arizona. Tim grew up camping and hiking in Joshua Tree, but I've never been. I've heard a lot about it, but was unprepared for how undeveloped the area is. We felt lucky getting ourselves a very swank room in the nearest motel with two king beds (our spoiled kids were like "why is the sink in the ROOM?") because the other visitors seemed to be serious hikers or serious hippies, and we had brought neither a tent nor psychedelic drugs. But we had a great day of hiking around. The kids were so thrilled that they could do some rock climbing. I love watching them adventure in the great outdoors. 

I would definitely come back if we could figure out how to camp. Maybe we'll become an outdoorsy family yet!

From there, we were off to Williams. 

We met up with our friends at Bearizona, which is a sort of drive through zoo. The animals are all in separate enclosures, and you drive through and see the deer and the wolves and the bison and then the bears. It was cool! We were there late in the day, and got to watch the bears climb trees and drink from a pond, and got to see a mama bison charge at a pick up truck!

We got settled into our cabin (the kids were thrilled that they had a Kid Cave bunk room) and tried to get to bed early so that we could be up and at it in the morning. We'd booked a guide to do the Bright Angel trail hike, and I must say, I'm glad we did. Our guides were Chris and Elaine. They were both so knowledgeable and friendly and kind - Chris had a young adventurer vibe, Elaine had a calming hippie grandma energy. I think we could have had a much tougher day without them, not because of the actual hiking, but because they did such an amazing job engaging the kids, and knew the answers to all of their questions. We all got a lot out of being able to have our questions answered while walking, and they were really motivating and supportive of the kids when we were hiking the two miles back up to the rim (some of the steps on the way back up are so tall and so steep that poor Judd almost needed a hand up. He still did better than Adam, who practically wanted us to drag him at the end.)

This rock was especially cool - you could see where the rock had split and shifted, and if you look, you can see petroglyphs. Chris also talked to the kids about how the dark coloring of the rock versus the lighter parts shows when the slide happened, because the dark parts are oxidation over time. 

We had lunch in this little natural amphitheater, about two miles down. Chris and Elaine had a nice picnic and we made sandwiches and enjoyed the view. Adam was really rambunctious, dancing around and wanting to climb all the rocks, and we kept telling him to save his energy for the walk back up. Did he listen? HE DID NOT. 

But, he made it! We all made it. 

It was also nice, going with the tour company, because when we walked back to our cars, Chris and Elaine had a cooler full of beverages (no road beers, sadly, but I guess that's reasonable) and snacky food and even candy. Poor Adam was so pooped - he hardly even cared about having a Gatorade, but he did eat a couple of Starburst and then asked where Lamby was. He and Judd slept the entire way back to our cabin, while the girls, Tim and I had a great singalong to various show tunes. 

We also stopped at a rock shop, because I love rocks. This amethyst had a matching pair, and they were priced at $20,000. I told the girls, someday when I'm rich, I'm going to have one of these big things on either side of my front door - it's been my dream ever since I saw one at the Nature Conservancy in Boston. While we were hiking, I had the following conversation with Lexi:
Lexi: Meg, why do you know so much about rocks? And when did you start loving jewelry? [we had been talking a lot about birthstones and gemstones, since she got her and Ellie matching opal friendship rings.]
Me: Well, Gigi knows a lot about rocks and has taught me about them. And I've loved jewelry as long as I've been alive. 

I will admit, I made Tim brake for basically every rock shop we passed (except later in the trip when we went through Sedona and he wouldn't stop at any crystal healing venues!) 

We took it easy the next morning, had coffee on the porch, enjoyed the scenery, and then geared up and headed back out to walk the South Rim trail. We did about two miles of it, from Bright Angel to their geology museum. The kids were fairly whiny on the way out - I've never met children who need quite so many water breaks, but when the trail started doing a geologic timeline, they got very into it. You walk through the 2.1 billion years of the Grand Canyon's existence via the rock layers. They have examples of what rocks are present, and very even markers - the kids loved counting down the time. The way back was better because I bribed them with the promise of ice cream!

The views were absolutely stunning - I wish we'd had more time at the Grand Canyon - I could have walked around all day looking at how it changes in the light. Someday, I'd love to hike to the bottom and then hike out another route. 

We also couldn't have asked for better weather. We were mercifully shaded during the majority of our trail hike, and when we walked along the rim trail the weather was warm but not miserable. Could not have asked for two more perfect days. 

Also, could not ask for two sweeter friends than these two. This is also so their personalities. Ellie is ready to be a teen, doesn't want to smile in pictures any longer, generally a sass pants. Lexi is a sweet, bookish little thing, always ready with a million questions, wanting to learn. 

On Thursday our friends headed home, but we headed off for a little more exploring. We stopped by to see the giant meteor crater outside of Flagstaff (over 4,000 feet wide!)

AND we got Culvers for lunch! Truly, an A+ vacation. Two giant holes in the ground, and my favorite vacation fast food. 

Our last night we spent in Jerome, AZ. It's an old mining town that boomed while they were mining cooper, and then went bust after the mines closed in the 1950s. It's built up on a hill, with beautiful views of Sedona, and apparently, it's the most haunted place in the state. Our hotel, the Jerome Grand, is the most haunted building, as it's the former town hospital. We were staying in the former hospice rooms, aka the Croak Rooms. So charming! But we didn't see any ghosts. We did enjoy that we had two adjoining rooms with a big shared bath (so you can share with the other dead and dying, I suppose) and had dinner on our balcony and watched baseball. I'd love to come back to the town during non-pandemic times, perhaps without kids, to go on all the ghost tours and sit on patios enjoying the view and drinking wine. I'd stay at the Jerome Grand again, hopefully so that the ghost cat will come and spoon with me. 

The kids did enjoy the town though - we went through the mining museum and they thought all the ghost stuff was really cool. Adam enjoyed going on the swings and the little park, and Ellie and I went and hit up, you guessed it, some rock shops!

This made me laugh so hard. 

Yesterday was our big drive home. We stopped in Quartzite to buy rocks, and I took a picture of Ellie in front of this bear, a little more than ten years after I first stopped in the store on the way back from a wedding in Tucson, about halfway through my pregnancy with her. 

The kids were such great little travelers. As you can see, they were good about masking up, doing hand sanitizer, keeping their hands to themselves. We tried to be as safe as possible - we only ate one meal actually IN a restaurant, and even then, we were out on the patio, on the other side from the other guests (our first restaurant meal since March!) Perhaps there's more we would have been able to do if we weren't worried about COVID, but being able to enjoy the great outdoors, being able to learn about the geology and the history, being able to see some of the world's most wonderful natural marvels was so worth it. Though we've already had tears about how this weekend will be spent catching up on school work, in part. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Fall Y'All.

Well, September is nearly over. We had a couple of weeks of weird weather around here - incredibly hot, and then very smoky and eerily overcast from the wildfire smoke. Our house was never under threat, but they were heavily recommending no outdoor activity because of the poor air quality. 

We did continue with some outdoor PE at the beach (because I figured my fragile sanity was a larger threat to the kids than the smoggy air) and that seemed okay. 

Though we much prefer this view, for obvious reasons. 

I feel very boring - there's not much to update, as our routines stay the same. We do the school work, they play the Minecraft, I exercise in my home gym (aka the garage) and then take the children for outdoor PE. We've seen a few more friends here and there but are trying to be smart and keep everything small. 
Sara and I made this sweet workout video for Special Olympics Southern California - we are now fitness influencers. I knew there was a reason I'd been wearing leggings all quarantimes!

Lastly, Adam has now lost his fifth tooth since lock down. His Miller horse teeth are coming along nicely in front. But right now, he is definitely Snaggle Tooth Johnson. Still, everything seems less wonky than his poor sister, so hopefully we can avoid the early stage braces for him. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dog Days.

 We've got two weeks of school under our belts, and some of the kinks are starting to work themselves out. I had intended for the kids to sit at the dining room table with me, but there was a lot of griping about the system, and it's harder now that they're doing more synchronized learning via Zoom. Ellie in particular was giving me a big upsell, telling me that her teacher said she MUST have a desk in a private space in order to work. Which I get, but your dad doesn't even have a private space - your teacher can't order me to build you an office - what if we lived in a little apartment? 

But, I am a nice mean teacher mommy, and I managed to find two kids' desk on Facebook market place and pick them up in an afternoon, so now everyone is set up in their own space. It's nice for me because Ellie does a lot less complaining and a lot more independent work, and Adam isn't right up in my grill. However, he wants way more supervision than her, so I often threaten to move him back to the dining room table. Example - he watched a video about the brain and how you learn, and there was an emphasis on how you have to practice to get better. At the end, he named easily ten things he's been at now that he's practiced them. But when it came to having to write two sentences, he didn't know what to write and started to throw a fit at me. He's a delight. 

I had told the kids that the cats are not their classmates, and I don't want them dragging Taco onto every single zoom call, but Taco obviously feels that he should do some math projects. He's also taken to sitting in Ellie's room with her during the day, which is fine by me, as long as he's not yeowling in the hallway. 

They're done by 1:30 in the afternoons, they let Mean Teacher Mommy check their work for the day (so that we don't have to redo things, or make more work for their teachers) and we've been continuing with the outdoor PE swim classes while it's warm. It's been just wretchedly hot the last couple of weeks, and for the first time the ocean was warm enough that Adam didn't come out shivering at any point. 

In person instruction via the hybrid program is tentatively set to begin on September 21st, but we are home until Thanksgiving. I'm really hoping for everyone's sake that the numbers continue to drop in our area and the kids can go to school and be safe in school. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

School Again!

 Here we are again, doing our distance learning, trying to keep sane and moving forward!

If you were wondering how our first family bike ride went last week, it was awesome, A+. No one cried, no one fell off their bike and no one got hit by cars. I was really impressed with Adam, pedaling away like crazy on his fixed gear bike (while Ellie pedaled slowly and complained - change gears and make life easier for yourself, kid!) 

We had a good last week of summer. Lots of swimming, another couple of trips to the beach. Buying the beach parking pass has been the best money I've spent all pandemic. If my kids look back on the summer of quarantine and remember all the great times they had at the beach, then I really can't ask for anything more. Their acrobatics training in Grizz's pool is also going well. 

So anyways, on to school. Both kids are in combo classes - Adam's is 8 second graders and 13 third graders. Ellie is one of 21 fourth graders and I think 9 fifth graders? The nice thing (for us) is that they don't tend to teach the kids together during the distance learning, so the kids are with a much smaller cohort. I think it will be especially good for Adam (who has Ellie's teacher from last year.) The downside is that those poor teachers are on Zoom all day, switching between classes. Thus far, no complaints. A technology snafu here and there as we get used to everything. Ellie did some serious sobbing about having a problem with a Zoom room - chill out chicken, it's not like you're going to fail fourth grade because you missed a lunch time check in! Adam hasn't had a ton to do yet, but he's getting the hang of the schedule. 

It's a lot right now, as we work out how the routine needs to go. Emotions are running high, from excitement to sadness to annoyance (mostly at technology.) In some ways, I feel like I have toddlers again, because I'm back to being their alpha and their omega and am responsible for everything, versus being able to fob them off on the teachers and follow up later, or like this summer, when the TV and Minecraft got to raise them. But I'm thankful we're all here together, and safe, and the teachers seem great and are doing their best to make this weird experience a fruitful and positive one. Two days down, 178 to go. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

August Mini Break

Not to much going on around here. The A/C is fixed, and the our solar system is in process, so this place should be pretty perfect in a few weeks. We've continued to hit up the beach almost every week day, and after a long wait, our bike rack has finally arrived and the trailer hitch has been installed on the car. Once Tim finishes lunch we're going to borrow Grizz's bike and head out for a family bike ride. Let's all hope for the best - Adam still hasn't done much outside of the school grounds on his bike. However, I got a great used bike a couple of weeks ago and that's been awesome for me! 

School starts a week from Monday, and due to state restrictions, it'll be fully online (I wouldn't have sent the kids into a classroom at this point anyways.) The biggest downside is that learning is set to start at 8:30, and I am not pleased about the idea of having to set an alarm again. Since our first Zoom of the morning in the spring was 10:30am, we had very leisurely mornings. The plan for distance learning for the new school year is that the kids will do live learning at several points throughout the day, and then complete work on their own (versus in the spring, when Ellie's class did twice weekly Zooms, more about checking in, less about going over new concepts and being taught.) We'll see how it all goes. I feel for the teachers to have to get all of this figured out, and to try to control a bunch of new, rowdy nutbars over video learning. 

We spent last week up in Northern California with Tim's college roommate Bob and his family. Ellie and Adam are thick as thieves with their two oldest, Amelia and Bobby, and are addicted to playing Minecraft and facetiming together. We didn't do much outside of hanging in their house (we went to get gelato twice, was the sum of our adventures) but the kids had a blast gaming together, doing water balloons and scootering. For the adults, sometimes it's just nice to have another set of hands around, and someone else to play Bananagrams and have a beer with after the kids go to bed. We're trying to plan a bubble trip where we can get an AirBnB someplace in between our houses. Being in Northern California made me very grateful that we can go to the ocean so easily, and that we have the deluxe membership package at Thiel Resort and Spa. 

Tim and I also celebrated fifteen years of marriage at the end of July. We had to cancel our planned anniversary trip back in March, but still had a really great day - spent the morning at the beach with the kids, and then for dinner we got fancy take out, and ordered cake from the same bakery that made our wedding cake, and had dinner with our maid of honor and best man, and our neighbor friends. I told the kids I wanted once nice picture of all of us for fifteen years and got....

I'll take what I can get. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020


Is the corn knee high yet? We remain mostly in our quarantine bubble, though can't complain too much, all being happy and healthy and fortunate. Just some days a little more sick of each other than others.

The other day I was so frustrated with the kids and how chippy they were being to each other and to me that we headed back to the beach, and invested in an annual parking pass for the state beach lots so that we can escape to the ocean more this summer (hashtag vitamin sea.) And it's working out well - the kids are both LOVING going in and boogie boarding, and Doheny hasn't been crowded, with easily ten feet of space between us and other parties while sitting on the sand (Adam has to come out at regular intervals to warm up his scrawny body.) The upside to his lack of body fat is that he hardly even needs to make an effort to get taken into shore by a wave:

It's been really nice. We've already gone twice, and are getting the hang of preparing to get out of the house and playing together on the sand. This is the first summer that I feel comfortable going with the two of them and the one of me, though Ellie would definitely like for me to quit watching her and let her paddle out to sit with the adult surfers, seeing as she thinks she's people. I hope that as the summer goes on we can check out new and different beaches too.

We've also been doing our bike riding. Today Uncle Jake mapped his route by our house so that the kids could ride with him for his birthday. When I told them what was happening, they were so excited that they started jumping up and down and screaming with joy, which was super sweet.

So that was a really fun treat to have on a hot Sunday.

Speaking of - the only thing we can truly complain about is that our air conditioner has breathed its last. Gigi brought over some box fans, which are seriously saving our lives in the afternoon hours before the house cools down. It's not totally unbearable - having a single story house helps, and our ceiling fans are doing their best, but I do not enjoy when my house is over 85 degrees inside. We're going to end up replacing the whole system, including the 40 year old, asbestos-laden duct work (for the best, obviously) and are getting quotes on solar. Who knows - we may still all be in this house quarantined next summer if the country can't get its shit together and stay inside/wear a mask, and by then I may want to just blast the AC at 62 degrees and lay on the floor in despair, so having a new, energy efficient, solar powered system may be just what the doctor ordered. Meanwhile, after our excellent afternoon swim at the Resort and Spa yesterday I went in to find that Grizz was running his AC for the first time in who knows how many years, just to taunt me. Joke's going to be on him when we all come and sleep over if it gets any hotter.