Saturday, March 17, 2012

3/17/12 March Ski Trip Day 1: Bluebird Day

Today was, I learned, a "Bluebird" day. That means a blue-sky day the day after a snowfall. It was also called a "powder day," though there appears to be disagreement about what defines a "powder day" and how long they last. I heard many people say this was the first powder day of the season though, or at least the closest to a "powder day" the Sierras get!

I never fail to be amazed how difficult it is to herd kids. Between the front door and the car this morning, one shirt was soaked to the point of needing changing, and two pairs of goggles were buried and lost. How is it my kids can't make it 20 feet to the car without these massive hassle-creating calamities?

All 3 kids were in all-day ski school today. I took a lesson in the morning and spent the afternoon alone, to my dismay. I really missed skiing with Gabriel and hanging with him at lunch.

I sure was happy to see Katrina off the bunny hill though! I saw her on her way to the Jerome lift, where she spent the day.

She was in a class with 2 other kids at about her level. Her teacher told me later that she loved the "powder" -- which really means super-deep snow that for her was waist-deep in the ungroomed areas.

On a groomed green section.

In the afternoon, I ran into Julian and his "class" -- instructor -- Julian was the only one! Julian's instructor told me that they'd had a TALK early on -- he found right away that Julian has some trouble taking authority seriously and messes around too much. But after the TALK, they did great together.

Julian worked really hard, had a great attitude, and really likes anything that's different. He likes jumps, going off the groomed runs to the sides, doing silly things. His teacher told me about one fall he had that he called a "gopher" fall -- in which Julian landed head-first in the powder and only had his skis sticking out!

Sometimes Julian's ignoring instructions means that he goes too far off the trail and has to be pulled out.

But for the most part, he listened well to his instructor -- even when I was there following them around with a camera.

Still working on full-on parallel, but he's really doing great.

Gabriel had a horrible experience this afternoon! Somehow he got separated from his lesson, causing a long futile search by his instructor.

His instructor had told Gabriel to go to a lift, but Gabriel missed that and went down short slope instead -- instantly out of sight. He ended up walking -- in boots and carrying skis -- back to the Judah lodge, and then even farther to the kid pickup area. That's a really long walk.

Before I or the other kids' parents knew any of this, all we knew is that our sons' lessons was really late and something must have happened. Then suddenly Gabriel appeared in the kid pickup area, looking absolutely wasted -- exhausted, frazzled and freaked out. He said he'd gotten lost and had just walked from the other lodge -- I was so incredulous, I didn't believe it until the instructor showed up about 10 minutes later and explained where Gabriel had gotten separated.

He'd had a good lesson before that though! He took one of the same easy black diamonds I had in my lesson, that wasn't easy now at all. This morning it was probably pure powder, but it was feet deep in snow, and by the time other skiiers and boarders chew through it, it's a rutty mess.

I'd done the same run in my morning lesson too ("Market Place"), and admired how my instructor floated right over it like it was nothing. He gave me and my two classmates all kinds of great instruction for how to get through the deep stuff, but it was still exhausting.

My instructor was really good at mixing it up and not wearing us out too much on the tough stuff -- we got in some easier groomed runs too. The view from the top of Mt. Lincoln is always fabulous (that's Donner Lake in the background).

I rarely fall these days, but I fell at least 4 times in my lesson in the powder. No crashing, just benign tipovers, but I was amazed at how incredibly difficult it was to get back up -- and I'm really good at getting back up. You can't push against anything, your poles sink straight down and reach nothing. One time one ski was speared straight down in the snow -- and only pulling it out straight up would get it out, and that is REALLY hard to do when the rest of you is sunk 2 feet down!

A classmate told me later that he'd read in a ski magazine that you can cross your poles and push against them to get back up. Good tip!

I also wished I'd learned about my jacket's "powder skirt" -- an inside elastic gusset designed to keep snow from going up your back. But when I took stock of just how much snow got everywhere, this measure seemed absurdly inadequate. The only way to keep snow from going up your back in those conditions is with a one-piece suit.

But overall, this was an amazing ski day. We sure have paid our dues -- first no snow, then horrible wet heavy snow, icy non-snow....skiing today on the groomed powdery snow was like nothing I've ever done before. And so much quieter than ice! I skiied way faster than I ever have -- real snow gives you far more margin for error than ice.

It was snowing when we left Sugarbowl, and continued to snow after we got back to our house, and then well into the night. Katrina loved playing in the snow until it just got too deep, and her boots were getting pulled off.

Maybe we'll get another Bluebird day tomorrow!


Friday, March 16, 2012

3/16/12 March Ski Trip: Stormy Drive

Thanks to a "Staff Learning Day," the 3rd weekend in March means a 3-day non-peak-time weekend in the winter. This will be the 3rd year in a row we've gone skiing this weekend. In fact, the first ski weekend we ever did was this same long weekend in 2010 (2010 March Ski trip).

This season has broken records for lack of precipitation, but it had rained a lot this week, presumably turning to snow in the mountains. I was glad for the snow, since in theory that will give us something to ski on this long weekend, but snow on the mountain passes means traffic, accidents, chain controls, and delays.

Normally I know better than to try to take smaller roads to bypass the highways, but when we got stuck in 10mph stop-n-go traffic on I-80, and my iPhone told Gabriel it'd be over an hour to the next exit -- let alone our destination. So at Cisco Grove, I decided to try the quasi-parallel Donner Pass Road.

This worked fine to bypass two exits, turning what would have been a 2-hour trip into a 20-minute one, but my plan to get back on the creeping highway for the actual summit crossing was foiled by a naming mistake on whatever map the iPhone uses (and possible interpretation error by a 10-year-0ld).

And so, we found ourselves on the same twisty Donner Pass Road that's provided such lovely vistas in the past -- only this time, all we could see was fog, rain and a little snow. The kids kept entertained by taking photos. It's actually interesting to me to see what they see of me for so many hours -- the back of my head, the startling green of my fleece jacket, and my hands tense on the steering wheel.

And that was about all there was to see, because visibility was quite poor!

But for once, the alternate route paid off, and we were in Truckee in under an hour, instead of almost 3 hours if we'd stuck to the main Interstate. The road we took had been plowed within the hour -- which can mean nothing in the Sierras if the snowfall is heavy enough -- but though the road had essentially been reduced to a one-lane road, the snow wasn't deep at all, and I never felt any serious danger from the road, only from other cars.

My snow-driving experience is very old and applies only to a light FWD car (my few formative years in Rochester NY in my beloved 1983 Honda Accord), but still I seemed to have far less trouble than many other drivers in the same conditions. Maybe the snow isn't as slippery here or maybe my AWD car makes it easier or maybe my many years of motorcycling in traction-challenged situations affects my outlook....I don't have near Dave's driving skill, but I could handle this no problem, despite the added responsibilty and distraction of travelling with 3 kids. Incredibly, they were far better-behaved under duress than they are when we're clipping along smoothly!

We made it without incident (and with a stop to pick up pizza) to our "Truckee Treasure" house, where we stayed during Ski Week. It was like coming home again!

I just hope we have as little trouble getting to Sugarbowl tomorrow morning by 8am -- but then, if we're snowed in all day, I won't be totally heartbroken either. Horrible weather and all, I'm just so happy to be back in the mountains.


p.s. eeps! Power outage! Funny how my affection for mountain living plummets when the luxuries of modern life disappear!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

3/15/2012 The Science

If there were a degree offered in packing for ski trips, I'd deserve at least a Master's, because I have that down to a science! And how far I've come from the day of snow bibs that were 2-years outgrown, forgetting a boot, melting zippers, and absurdly oversized goggles!

I'm picking the kids up at noon tomorrow, in the hopes that we can be on the road by 1pm and avoid most of the traffic on our way to the Tahoe area. It will be a swarm, because this week marks the most snow they've had all year.

One of the kids' favorite entertainments in the car is texting Uncle Ronan. Katrina's getting pretty good at texting, with help from Big Brother sometimes -- the only problem is that she loses it if I insist she give back the iPhone when she's expecting a response!

This was coming back from Bear Valley two weekends ago.

Truckee, here we come!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

3/13/2012 On working

Some days, I muse about what it would be like if I didn't have a job.

Today I came home early, having gone to work on the principle that I'd see how I felt getting up and about, despite some very unexpected violent vomiting last night. It turned out, no, I really wasn't feeling so well and I needed to go home. Though I hated how I felt, it was nice to be home when Gabriel got home, hang with him a little, and "relax," if you can call it that.

But this morning, I learned that next week, I'll be driving to Watsonville to configure the California Strawberry Commission's wireless network. It doesn't get better than that! Totally cool! I didn't want to "relax," I wanted to write up a detailed network design so this goes absolutely smoothly.

Sometimes I wish I didn't work, but most of the time I'm so glad I do. Today happened to work out to the perfect balance: work in the morning, then home in the afternoon. Overall, I think this is a great problem to have.

I feel bad about all the time I've been taking off, but this coming weekend, we're going to Truckee for a ski weekend at Sugarbowl, since the kids have a "staff learning day" off Monday. AND IT'S SNOWING NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Guilt GONE!!

Well, almost...I'll bring my work laptop with me and will probably be hammering out details, but what better place to do that than happily ensconced in the mountains!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

3/11/2012 Leprechaun Trap

Seems we've had so many extraordinary weekends and days that I was pretty happy about having a very ordinary Sunday today!

My top #1 goal today was to SLEEP LATE. I'd been up at 5:20am for 5 days in a rowm, then at 6:20am on Saturday to go running (and good thing I got up that early; a few minutes later and the parking lots at Rancho San Antonio would have been packed -- I got in a good 8.7 miler).

Then yesterday we took the kids to see the annual Physics Show at Foothill College. This is such a nice thing that this community college's physics department does -- they demonstrate concepts like inertia, angular momentum, temperature and pressure in such accessible, understandable and entertaining ways. Like seeing the trucks loading up with shopping carts drive away, and all the carts rolling off the truck (inertia!) or hammering a nail with a frozen banana. I wouldn't hesitate to bring my non-scientifically-minded nephew to this.

The grand finale is the pressure demonstration, in which someone lies between two beds of nails, and a sledgehammer is used to break a cement block over him.

I stopped video-ing too early -- after this, the guy gets up, drinks some water and says, "See -- no leaks!"

OK, Good Mom check for Saturday.

But though I wanted to take it easy today, I still had two obligations. One was to meet with a landscape designer -- on a Sunday no less! Responsivel, inquisitive, available by email, experienced with execution as well as design -- I liked her so much I hired her on the spot, and in two weeks we should have a new plant design. Some of our existing plants will stay, but many will be replaced by CA natives, as well as blank spots filled in, screening areas planted (to block ugly view), re-staking plants that need it, moving ones that aren't happy where they are. I'm thrilled -- I love our new landscape overall, but so many of the plants have been bothering me, and we're in garden paradise here, I shouldn't have to put up with a bunch of shrub roses that look awful most of the time.

Fortunately, Dave took all the kids to the BMX park today while I was talking with the landscaper, a very welcome outing for all of them. I sure as heck don't want to do that with Katrina again -- what a complainer! Just the boys is fun though.

The other major obligation today was Julian's monthly "book" report due next week: the leprechaun trap. We've done this once before when Gabriel was in 2nd grade, and it was a very different experience. Gabriel was all over it, excited and couldn't wait to do it, and he did most of it himself. Julian needed a lot of pushing and had a lot of interference from Gabriel, who wanted to "help" but mostly took over and insulted Julian a lot. Julian has his own ideas, but he forms them differently from Gabriel -- he doesn't have the same focus, but he has a lot more creativity and tends to see if more from the leprechaun's point of view, so it's harder to rein in his vast views.

Last week, I took Julian's to Michael's to find some materials, and had to make suggestions for substitutes, thereby making it my project too, sort of.

We were way behind on this project because, silly us, we went away during Ski Week (and even skiied), only to come back to find that the trap itself was supposed to be done. Then we went away the weekend afterward too! I know that was pushing it, especially when I had a class started at 5:30am and the cleaners coming the day after we got home, but I hoped we -- he -- could get the trap done this weekend.

Julian is supposed to do it all himself, but he needs a lot of guidance. I have to find the right box, for instance. He has to cover the walls with paper, but he needs help in how to do that. An idea he had for using a plastic cookie container turned into my suggesting that the lid become a window, which meant more help showing him how to cut out a circle. We used a garland for the "grass" on the top, but handling a bottle of glue and the garland together was a two-person job. One of us got the idea of a rainbow, which we fashioned out pipecleaners, but again I was the one driving the implementation: stick them into styrofoam balls, which I'll cut down, then glue to the top. The ladder was his idea, but he didn't know about notched popsicle sticks or how to use them. He liked my suggestion of reinforcing the ladder joints with pipe cleaners, but it was still my suggestion.

I really believe a kid should do as much as possible themselves, as Gabriel did, but when it comes to craft projects, there's just no getting around Mom being involved to a large extent. I really, really hate craft projects from school, even though this one was fun for me and fun to work on with him.

Julian demonstrates the very well-hidden trapdoor.

Inside, the leprechaun hits a ramp and slides into a bucket, and a bell goes off to alert us to his arrival.

More importantly, I was able to get Julian to write his 8-sentence paragraph about it tonight. So we're almost caught up. Next week: the final draft of the report, and practice his presentation.

Can a Dad's life of raising a girl ever be complete without assembling a dollhouse? While I was working with Julian, Dave got roped into helping Katrina set up cardboard dollhouse she'd gotten for Christmas, which is suddenly her FAVORITE thing in the whole world. Now that it's set up, she gets to furnish, color and decorate it. She was delighted!.

Back to the regular world for me tomorrow -- no more taking classes at 5:20am in my PJs from home....but since we're leaving this coming Friday -- the day Julian's leprechaun trap is due -- for another ski trip, it can't be that real!