Saturday, January 02, 2010

1/2/10 Lick Observatory

I wanted to take the kids on a real outing today, but a nasty head cold dampened my enthusiasm for the first idea we'd kicked around: Gilroy Gardens (formerly known as Bonfante Gardens).

Besides, I'd actually have to get out of bed before 10 to make that happen and worthwhile. Not to mention some advance planning and finding discount tickets. One full-price ticket for ages 7-64 is over $40!

Plan B was the Lick Observatory, on the top of Mount Hamilton. I've been up Mount Hamilton road many, many times on my motorcycle, as it's a popular "quick fix" if you need a morning of twisty riding. (I used to challenge myself to ride all the way down without using my brakes, and mostly succeeded, riding more safely and smoothly than when I was grabbing them at every turn.) Mount Hamilton road is a fabulously tight and twisty road, and if you're able to stop and look, with fantastic views. There's a reason they put a telescope on top of it, after all.

Not unlike our recent trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, the weather threatened again to foil our plans. As we approached Quimby Road, the fog was so low and dense it appeared we'd just be driving into total soup and wouldn't be able to see anything. I mused at how the one other time I've driven up Mount Hamilton in a car, with my mother some years ago, it was also so fogged in we couldn't see a thing.

But we got lucky -- we drove up, down, and then out of the fog. It hadn't made its way over the foothills yet, and we were faster. This made for a real visual treat, seeing the fog slowly flow across the foothills.

The kids loved the drive, as usual. In general, we've found that the tighter, twistier, trashier and less paved the road, the more into it they are. Mount Hamilton road never disappoints. (You can sort of see the road in the distance in this photo.)

Katrina was asleep when we arrived, so the boys and I poked around the beautiful views of the clouds below us from the observatory's parking lot.

We went inside the observatory building, and caught a tour of the 122-year-old 36-in telescope, the first one up there. The old photos around the building showing the road and how they hauled the equipment up the steep road by horse are amazing.

Not surprisingly, Julian was the most riveted by the short talk, and though the guy was talking pretty fast, Julian caught that there's yet another much larger telescope in another building.

Katrina loved the photos of the moon and planets.

Mount Hamilton actually has a small community, even with a school. Its tiny post office is in this building.

We got into the car and started driving back down, but Julian was frantic about visiting the other, larger telescope, in another building a short walk away. So we turned around, parked, and went to the Shane telescope, taking in more beautiful views along the way.

An impressive dome, but a unimpressive inside overall. Inside, there was a glass gallery that let us see into the more modern and much bigger telescope, but it was dark and obviously set up for real scientfic observations, not tourists. Still interesting though.

The walk back down was unbearably adorable -- Katrina insisted on holding Gabriel's hand, and he gladly complied. It doesn't get much more heartwarming than this, they were so cute together.

(Meantime, Julian was working on moving a rock onto the roadway...great.)

We drove back down into the clouds, went through some very very low-visibility fog, then just regular old clouds. I was happy to get home and be reunited with my Sudafed.

We don't get a lot of overcast days in the Bay Area, it's ironic that we picked one to rise above it.


(Note that I also wrote about our weather-challenged outing across the
Golden Gate Bridge, but posted it to 12/31/09, the day we did it.)

Friday, January 01, 2010

1/1/10 New Day

Hmm, I had a hard time typing the date!! One-one-ten. Wow.

Well, good riddance 2009.

We're having a serious attitude problem with Gabriel these days. Asked to do something (e.g. pick up your socks that are strewn in front of the front door), he answers with exasperation or flat-out refusal. "NO," or, "I REFUSE." Literally -- he says "REFUSED" !

I'm not sure how to handle this. It has to be extreme, whatever it is. With Gabriel, if you enter the battle underequipped, it's bound to be protracted. You have to strike fast and hard. Taking toys away -- even very highly valued ones -- barely works. Threatening spanking, that sort of works, if it's delivered in a calm even tone informing him just how many he's going to get. But I don't want to live that way, it's very stressful. And he's almost 8 -- we need to update/upgrade our discipline methods. To what, I have no idea.

I'm dealing with a 7-year-old teenager.

Talking to him calmly later, like about how rudeness isn't acceptable and that it will only make things worse for him, listening to his side, suggesting other responses, and relating similar stories from my own childood, definitely reaches him. But it has no effect in the heat of the moment. I can see how furious and frustrated he can I guide this intense person not to hang himself in conflicts? His iron backbone is an admirable asset, but it's going to work against him until he learns to control it. Which likely won't happen until he's 40 and divorced and in group therapy.

Katrina, meantime, has been surprisingly cooperative and agreeable the past few days. For example: "Mommy, can you please open my Mr. PotatoHead box?" I tell her sure, but first pick up the puzzle you just did. "OK Mommy!" and she trots off to her room, applies herself fiercely to the task, and then reappears a few minutes later. "Mommy, can you please open my PotatoHead box?"

I have my first cold of the year -- already! I spent the New Year turnover watching HGTV, sniffling and coughing and trying to get comfortable, then suddenly realized "oh wow, it's 12:07...guess it's the New Year." Hurrah. Dave was already asleep.

Today I've spent much of the day lying down, and was glad when Katrina kept me company. I get quickly bored with TV, can't concentrate on reading, and poop out quickly walking around doing things. At least I put a few things away in the garage and made some blueberry turnovers...I couldn't resist since a friend so kindly loaned me a stand mixer and I just had to use it today.

But that's it for me, and I suspect much of the same for tomorrow. I'd better dig deep though, 'cause the good karma from our trip to the city yesterday has totally worn off. Those kids need to get out.


Thursday, December 31, 2009

12/31/09 New Year's Eve Day

Dave and I had a bad history for New Year's Eves, starting with our first together:

1998: Minor car accident in the city.
1999: I was on call for bogus Y2K issue, and Dave was sick.
2000: I had my first fever in 10 years, then was sick for a month.
2001: We poured a concrete platform in the basement, I was 8 months pregnant.
2002: Miscarriage.
2003: Brand-new baby, absolutely no sleep.
2004: Broke the streak...Laura and Ryan were here.

And overall New Year's Eves have been fine since, though we haven't done much on New Year's Eves since having kids. One year, we were asleep and were irritated at being woken up by some popping sounds outside, later realizing it was celebratory fireworks.

We really do get some cool aircraft flying over our house. This is a zeppelin (a rigid-frame airship made by the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin), not a blimp, despite their similar shapes.

I took the kids to the city today to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had such a great time and I took a lot of pictures, but those will have wait until tomorrow. It is New Year's Eve, after all.

Happy New Year!


Golden Gate Bridge Walk

On New Year's Eve, I picked the kids up from a sleepover at Tonya's, and since they were already so handily in the car, I took them straight to the day's activity. I wasn't quite sure what that would be until we got on the road -- my initial idea of walking the Golden Gate Bridge seemed iffy due to weather, but, most of the time that I take chances against the weather, I win.

And today was one of those times. Overcast, chilly, but no rain and a perfectly fine day to walk across -- and back -- a bridge. I was determined to make it all the way to the other side, and back, as usual underestimating how long it is (1.7 miles).

I grew up within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, and walked or bicycled across it many times in my youth, so I have a long history of bridge-crossing. As a kid I had some snobbery about "my" bridge -- what other bridge could ever be as grand or historic as the Brooklyn Bridge -- but, it turns out, there's plenty of room in my heart for two. And indeed, the Golden Gate Bridge is truly spectacular, no less captivating after living in this area for 20 years. Gabriel has wanted to walk across it at night, but a day trip would have to do.

So, we drove to the city, parked at one of the vista points, looked around a bit, then headed across.

I've never paid much attention to what else is around there, but there's a lot. Fort Point is a Civil War era fort that I think can be toured. That's a definite future visit.

Nice thing about the bridge: it's so noisy from traffic and wind that I couldn't hear Katrina complaining from the stroller!

Not that I needed to. Gabriel pushed the stroller almost the entire way.

At first it was tricky getting him and Julian to stay to the right -- there are a lot of pedestrians near the ends of the bridge and a lot of bicycles. Once we got past the initial crowd, we were among the very very few walkers who went past the first tower; most other bridge-crossers were runners or cyclists.

It warmed up noticeably as we headed north and then crossed the Marin county line. Julian finally took his hood off -- he's driving me crazy with that because I hate how pictures look with that hood on!

It was a really fun walk, and they all loved stopping and looking out at the bay, Alcatraz and the few boats that were out. But it was longer than I expected, and we were all ready for a break when we arrived at the vista point on the north end of the bridge. It completely packed with cars looking for parking, and I was grateful we were not among them.

We sat down on the walls, resting and drinking in the scenery. The kids didn't realize that the city we were looking at was San Francisco.

Gabriel, to my surprise, said he was hungry. He's never hungry! I hadn't planned at all for this. I'm not a big snack-packer anyway, I'd planned to take them to lunch right after our bridge-walk, and it wasn't even really lunchtime yet. But we had a long walk yet back across the bridge.

I spotted some tour buses parking, and overheard their announcements about leaving in 15 minutes. Feeling nervy, I asked a tour bus driver if we could get a ride back across the bridge, but they weren't going that way. Then one of those fake cable-car busses pulled up, and I asked again. This guy was really nice, and said he was in the midst of a 2-hour tour, but for $10 he'd take us all back and drop us close to the parking lot. Cool!

The kids amused themselves while we waited the well-worthwhile 10 minutes.

Then their favorite part of the outing: the bus ride back! It was fun being on an open bench facing out. I suppose I should be a little more freaked-out about my 3-year-old being so exposed and close to traffic, but they were all calm and having a ton of fun.

I was very grateful to the tour bus operator for being so gracious and helpful. Thank you, sir!

When we got back, a demonstration was underway. (The signs say "Free Gaza").

The only counterpoint was safely airborne, towing a banner that reads "Israel: Security Freedom Peace."

There is a small "Bridge Cafe" there, with a small selection of food. Being San Francisco, you can count on some healthier choices amidst the Cheetos and Skittles, and we made do with a fruit salad and grilled chicken sandwich. Katrina was afraid of the pigeons that stalked us, and she shrieked whenever I took her off my lap to get up for any reason.

It was much more crowded when we left than arrived, so I was glad we'd gotten there as early as we did. We took the scenic route back through the city, on the Great Highway. I'm ashamed to say I never knew that San Francisco had so many wonderful and easily accessible beaches! Then again, who wants to go to San Francisco during beach season anyway?

A beautiful walk and a really really fun time. Funny that I moved here largely to be closer to a big city, and that now I rarely visit it. That really should change.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12/30/09 Sleepover

Kids on sleepover, yayy!

Actually, we were late to sleepover because Gabriel came upstairs to ask me something, while I was lying down resting. (On days I work out, I try to lie down for a bit, though lately my back has been great.) He ended up snuggling up with me in bed, and we chatted and laughed together for about half an hour. He is such an awesome kid -- awesome person -- I just love these moments alone with him. He's so sweet, bright, cheerful, eager to explore verbally and talk and laugh about things. I'm very aware that it won't be long before he won't be snuggling in bed with his mother anymore, so I really treasure those moments.

Thankfully, Julian and Katrina were completely absorbed in a huge box of Mr. PotatoHead things that we just got handed down (thanks!). If her brothers aren't bugging her, Katrina let me take naps, though I generally try to set her up with something interesting to do in her room so I can hear her. The trouble comes when the brothers are looking for someone to bug.

The kids were all excited for sleepover and for once clamored right into the car. On the way over, Gabriel gently expressed his disappointment at not getting a Nintendo DS for Christmas (UNCLE RONAN DON'T YOU DARE!!). I'm just not ready to monitor a highly desirable item that will completely absorb him for hours a day. I can only see it causing trouble.

I know where he's getting the idea though. At least 3 other boys brought their own Nintendo DSs to sleepover, captivating most of the group. (Katrina couldn't see, but found other toys to play with.)

I don't know, I don't dare go there yet. They have plenty of other electronic devices in their lives, they're not deprived.

They're all going to be exhausted and grumpy tomorrow...I'd better brace myself.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12/29/09 Castle Rock

If not for a really fun and beautiful outing today, the day would have sucked.

I'll start with the bad stuff. First, Gabriel had a rare crying episode this morning when the leg broke off a teddy-bear pancake I'd made. By itself this isn't bad, but this kid does not let go of things easily, and he carried on for nearly half an hour, with Katrina joining in when I refused to serve her after numerous rude demands (she refused to say please). I had some fantasy of calling my sister and brother today, but this noise level made it impossible.

There's also a seriously increasing problem of Gabriel attacking Julia. Boys will be boys, and brothers especially will be very physical together, but too many times, Julian is left howling in pain for a relatively minor offense. I know he can be a pain, but getting kicked in the back for make a stupid sound repeatedly is too much. Today the attacks happened more times than I can count, though Julian dished out his share too, including a deep bite on Gabriel's hand. Naturally, that cost Julian dearly.

They really, really needed to get out.

But we had a long delay leaving because of a major Katrina tantrum. She refused to go to the bathroom before getting in the car, a strict rule. And there was no leeway here -- she hadn't gone for a while, and we were going to be in the car for a long time. I was SO frustrated alternatively trying to persuade her and threatening her with taking her to Tonya's, while the boys were ready, in the car, and pounding each other. I threatened to put a diaper on her, but wouldn't you know it, I gave away all our diapers yesterday. I was ready to take her to Kid Park, a place where you can do drop-in childcare, and again she was fine with that.

But finally, finally, she relented. By then I was a wreck, teetering on complete insanity, seething with frustration, ready to put up all three for adoption.

Few things soothe the soul more than getting outside and into the mountains. I made a fortunate navigation error, which meant we took Page Mill Road, a twisty scenic road I used to know like the back of my hand from motorcycling. The kids loved the detour, fascinated by the road features and the views. Still, Katrina was excited to get to "Rock Castle," our state park destination (really Castle Rock).

Castle Rock is a wonderful state park in the Santa Cruz mountains, with one of my all-time favorite hiking trails. We weren't there to hike though, we were there to walk the 3/10 mile to the huge rocks, with fascinating formations and caves and all sorts of stuff to climb on.

Katrina at first insisted on staying in the stroller.

This actually was stressful for me; I wanted to follow the boys and see how they got used to the climbing before not worrying about them. The odds of someone stranding themselves or falling are high there.

Gabriel jumped right in, excitedly exploring every crevice, wiggling through tunnels, climbing up to the tops.

Julian was typically hesitant at first, but it didn't take long for him to relax and start exploring farther than Gabriel did.

In fact, I made the mistake of blurting out without thinking, "Wow, Julian, you're a really good climber!" It went to his head and he kept trying to show off. But it's true; usually Gabriel is better at gross-motor-skill things, and Gabriel has a big age advantage, but Julian was surprisingly more agile and courageous. Gabriel is very competitive though, and several times he saw Julian scale some obstacle that Gabriel had tried and given up on, then he tried again and got through it.

The boys had a great time exploring and playing, and I gave them free rein, quelling a small thread of fear that one of them would get trapped or stuck when I was too far away to help in time. But you have to let kids go, and actually they were both pretty careful. (As babies/toddlers, none of my kids showed any particular ability or inclination to climb.)

I like to climb too, though cold hands and minding a grumpy toddler hampered that.

Katrina, typically, did not take to this right away. At first, she'd barely even walk on level ground without holding my hand.

Then she tried climbing through a very easy tunnel, and got all scared. I didn't rescue her, instead coaxing her to climb out herself.

I carried her around the back of the rocks and up onto a small plateau with a level area leading to a shallow cave. This turned her around. She relaxed and had a great time playing in "her" cave.

Then she got brave enough to try some other caves too.

In the end, it looked like I was going to have a problem getting them all out of there, but it was late enough and they were hungry enough that some granola bars tore them away.

We had a nice drive home and an overall good afternoon and evening. Gabriel and I made two batches of cookies from my new old cookbook, I Know How To Cook (a new translation of a classic French cookbook that my grandmother used). The kids were tired and had an early bath and a movie. I have to say, it's weird when they're watching a movie, so quiet. I can't turn off my Mom "it's too quiet" alarms.

Aside from yet another fraternal impact incident, they went to bed tired and without any trouble. And we now have another Top 10 Favorite place to go.