Thursday, July 05, 2012

7/5/12 Farewell Cousins!

Even though we squeezed in another glorious day in Arnold, we had to face reality eventually, and drove home Tuesday night July 3rd.

The long drive stinks no matter what, so might as well make the day about a visit to darling downtown Murphy's, an afternoon outing at the lake, and another big dinner scramble, instead of about driving home/. It was super-busy packing up after dinner, but we pulled it off and had a traffic-free hiccup-free drive back to sea level.

But not before I got another coveted photo of the whole crew! On the deck of our temporary home in Arnold.

Too bad photos can't capture scents. The woodsy, earthy, almost balmy scents of the redwoods and sequoias....absolutely glorious. If there is a Paradise in Heaven, it smells like this.

I absolutely loved Arnold -- at 4000 feet, it's just upward of the foothills, but it's still low enough for manzanitas and to be accessible and not risk being closed due to snow, though it does snow there. I've been through Arnold many times, but never spent any real time there. I have such a sense of belonging in that area. Gold Country -- figures!

But flatlands and reality had to interject, and two sisters and five children in a rented Toyota Sienna arrived in Sunnyvale around 11pm. We whisked kids off to bed fast, ready for a relaxed day at home the next day.

July 4th day, we went to, what else, the pool. I'm so happy I joined this pool! I thought it'd never pay off, but July is barely underway and it already has. If nothing else, just to see our five children bouncing around like crazy in the water today (well, 4 in the deep end) was worth it!

Steph and I marvelled at how our children worked out. Our lives have led utterly divergent paths, yet somehow we ended up having our first babies, both boys, within 5 days of each other. In the end, all 5 kids were born within 5 years, and it would have been under 3 years if not for Katrina. And how incredibly fortunate for all of us!

Each visit as they get older, the cousins have so much fun together. And me too. This year especially, I can't think of a better way to explore and enjoy my favorite things and places than with family. We shared a mountain cabin, a lake, a cavern, a state park with massive trees and lots of good food and tons of great fun with kids, together. (I'm so proud that my niece and nephew think I'm a great cook!)

Meantime, lifetime family relationships continued to be forged...Julian indulged in hours of imaginative play with his cousins....Gabriel sucked his like-aged cousin into gun wars....the girls did endless girl-things together when not playing with or fending off brothers (both girls have only older brothers and no sisters).

More as more as they get older, personality trumps age and we can see real relationships forming based on individuals, as well from the juxtaposition of genes and history. Nothing makes me feel more like I've done something right in life than when I see and hear these children playing, talking, arguing, laughing together.

But today, it came time for the Engels to fly home.....still, we were all happier about our fantastic time together than sad about saying goodbye.

Aunt and East-coast nephew/niece...

The boys...

The girls...

The 3rd-graders...

The 5th-graders...

Aunt and girls...

The sister grownups who made it happen....

....and our kids we made it happen for!


Monday, July 02, 2012

7/2/12 California Caverns

Around here, a cavern visit was a must!

I'd hoped to make it to Black Chasm Caverns on a friend's recommendation, but decided it was too far from Arnold. Instead, I picked California Caverns, primarily because the guided tour was "mostly level." Other closeby expeditions were shorter, but involved over 200 steps and might have been a problem with a 5-year-old in tow.

In retrospect, I might have reconsidered if I'd realized how carsick my nephew Aidan gets -- and these roads are carsick roads for anyone! I'm happy to be back in my old motorcycle stomping grounds (classics like Avery-Sheepranch Road and Fullen Road), but in the back seat of a minivan, these can't be any fun.

But we made it to California Caverns, and had some time before our noon tour to take some photos.

Everyone had to wear a helmet. Thankfully, Aidan took it upon himself to mind Katrina and help her through some of the trickier hiking, steps and tunnels in the cavern.

I took a lot of photos in the caves, but only the stationary ones came out. I've been to other caverns that are more spectacular and colorful, but this one is so interesting historically, in that gold miners discovered it and then used it for things like church services and weddings. The miners damaged pretty much every area they touched, but there was one room that was discovered as recently as 1960 and is completely preserved ("The Jungle Room").

Unlike our hike along the fantastic Big Trees, there was no whining or complaining on this tour. Gabriel was probably the most enthusiastic, whereas he'd been the biggest complainer on the Big Trees path, and had objected the most to going out today.

We're so in the swing of things now that we've decided to stay an extra day, and our kind landlady happily agreed!

We'd essentially lost a day because my sister's flight was cancelled (can you believe that?!) and they didn't arrive on their rescheduled flight until well into the evening. This forced us into a delayed, traffic-choked drive eastward, a hurried Denny's dinner, and then a long painful search for our rental house in the dark, instead of an easy, clear, daylight drive with plenty of time to get oriented and re-acquainted (thanks a lot, American Airlines).

Turns out, my initial instinct of 5 days was about right, but we lost a day with the airline snafu. So after our landlady kindly confirmed another day, we were all jumping for joy to have another final day together in the magical mountains!

I can't get over the views, the fragrance of the woods, how things shift so quickly according to altitude here. The Caverns we went to were at under 2000 feet, and not only was the vegetation much different, but it was much hotter and just seemed so different. I'm not sure which I love better -- 2000 ft. near Sheepranch or 4000ft here in Arnold (where it snows) -- but it sure is a terrific dilemma to have!


Sunday, July 01, 2012

7/1/12 The Festival

Our 3rd day in Arnold, and we're finally getting the hang of things! Inertia is high, so motivating the whole crew to go do something fabulous around here is tough, but that's fine. There's so much just plain old hanging to catch up on.

This morning, the girl cousins spent a long time sketching trees and chatting together outside behind our rented cabin.

Meantime, two of the boys hunted some imaginary foes with Nerf guns, while the 3rd boy hid.

Julian is having a grand time with his cousins, able to indulge and be led into all sorts of imaginative play that just doesn't exist in the logical Doudna household. At least, none beyond a 5-year-old girl level.

But every parent knows that kids need to get out, away from the house, a change of context, no matter how much fun they're having at home. It happens that a small local art festival was taking place in "downtown Arnold" (that's an oxymoron), which we rounded the troops up to attend. After fulfilling a promise for souvenirs (they all picked polished rocks and crystals at the festival), and for a gooey sweet kids-drink, we lucked upon a local carnival-type entertainer at the festival. Juggling, magic, unicycle-riding, comedy, that sort of thing. What better for a bunch of kids (and two moms) !!

When the entertainer called for a volunteer, Cousin Aidan eagerly put himself out there, and helped the carnival guy with a 5-ball juggling trick that included catching one of the balls in a hat.

It wasn't easy, but Aidan succeeded and got a big round of applause! (And also he was awarded the first audience donation into the same hat.)

After festivaling, the kids were hankering for a swim. The area we're staying in has two man-made lakes with beaches (very hard to find), and that are unusually warm for Sierra Nevada lakes. Arnold is at about 4000 feet -- above snow line, but bodies of water will be warmer than those around Lake Tahoe. We tried one of the lakes that's close to the cabin we're staying in, and this was perfect. Very pretty, with a nice safe sandy beach, and a dock to swim to, for those so inclined and able.

I went for a short run while Aunt Stephanie minded the kids in the lake, and I marvelled at how lovely this area is. I can't get over the scent of the redwoods and the forest and the fresh earthy air. It's warm enough that we keep many windows open, and every morning the crisp woodsy scent wafts into my room and lures me out of bed just to join the outdoors. The tall trees in the mountains are so cathartic, even spiritual, but in a very tangible, palpable way.

We're finally well into the groove of things here, we have a good routine going and are in tune with the energy swings of five children. These will be family bonding memories we'll cherish all our lives! I already am.