August 31, 2012

Craving Normal

 Happy Friday!  I wanted to pop in and say hello.  Continuing in the theme of our busy, family-oriented August, my mom has been staying with us for a few days, which is why I've been pretty quiet this week.

And August really has been busy: Both kids started school and started soccer practice, we took the Morro Bay trip for my in-laws' anniversary, and now my mom has been our houseguest for most of the week. It's great to be busy, to have the opportunity to travel and spend time with both of our famillies, but....whew.  I'm ready for a break from all the busy busy. (And the piles of laundry.) 

One casualty of our busy life has been our nightly reading schedule.  I prided myself on reading to Lily nearly every single night of her life (sans some weekends and vacations)  from age one through about age nine.  And I still get plenty of requests to read aloud to her, even though she's 10 and a voracious independent reader herself now. (This week, she was reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.) 

But Tucker is a different story.  People say, "oh, boys are different about books," but I don't buy that. I do accept that he's not going to be the crazy-intense bookworm like his sister. Still, he does enjoy books, and I've really dropped the ball this summer on our nightly routine of reading aloud.  He's a good reader, reads higher than his grade level, and has a great vocabulary.   But he's only seven, and I should still be reading to him, much more than I have.  It's at the top of my mom-guilt list right now. There were many, many nights this summer that he requested to be read to, and I was too tired and/or lazy to do it. (It didn't help that summer bedtime was around 9:30.)

Up there is his stack of library books that were due this week.  He read all the illustrated books on his own, and flipped through the "Dangerous Book for Boys," which he insisted on getting, even though it's a bit over his head.  But we never even cracked open Charlotte's Web, which I was really looking forward to reading to him.  We fared only slightly better with Stuart Little: I read him a few chapters (that he loved), and then we got busy and I stopped reading and eventually had to take it back to the library, unfinished. 

Not acceptable!  So, after this last long holiday weekend of the summer, I'm looking forward to next week, and all the weeks after that, and hoping we can all fall back into a more regular, less hectic routine.  I'm looking forward to cooler autumn evenings and diving into the books of E.B. White, C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl with Tucker, just like I did with his sister.  (I wonder if he'd like some Laura Ingalls Wilder, too?)

Until then...Happy Labor Day!  We have no plans for this weekend, and I'm very okay with that.  

August 27, 2012

Back from the Bay

 We're back from five days away in Morro Bay on the central coast.  As predicted, it was mostly foggy and chilly. The highs each day were in the low 60s. The above photo is of the iconic Morro Rock, which is technically a "volcanic plug." 

There's a path where you can walk or bike out to the base of the rock, but we didn't do that sort of thing. It wasn't that sort of trip.  Rather, the purpose of this trip was a small family reunion to celebrate my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary.  As such, our days were not really our own, and I, as the daughter-in-law, was hardly the one in charge of our daily itinerary. 

This makes me, the control-freak, a tiny bit crazy, but after fifteen years of marriage, I've learned to lower adjust my expectations for time spent with my husband's family.  They live in northern Oregon, and we see them maybe once every two to three years.  We're not close, in any sense of the word. I used to bemoan and worry over this fact, until it slowly dawned on me that it's not my fault. 

Anyway.  We did not hike, bike, or do anything more physical than stroll the Embarcadero area of town, which is much like every single beach town's tourist drag: shops with t-shirts, salt-water taffy, shells and crystals, along with pizza and seafood joints and art "galleries"  etc. etc. 

Our days were bookended with hours spent hanging around the rental house secured by my sister-in-law. It was spacious, with room enough for eight people and my in-laws' two touchy, yippy poodles. There was a great view of the Rock, and at night we could hear seals (sea lions?) barking out in the bay.  The decor, however, was "decades-old garage sale"  with a stained sectional, a cracked faux-leather sofa, tired appliances, and one random stuffed white tiger.  So here is this, which really best summarizes the tone of our days on this little coastal trip:
And here is a wider shot, so that you may better appreciate the two Thomas Kinkade tapestry throws that also came with the house:
Y'all know how I love my road trips, but sometimes it's really good to be home. 

August 21, 2012

Writer. Blogger. Crafter?

I've been trying to craft what to say about the Craft Cabinet. Because that's what I do: I craft with words, with metaphor and allusion and mostly good grammar and thereby shape myself via language into this persona here on the blog. I'm good at it. I have a degee in it, even. What I am not, most decidedly, is a crafter of actual crafts.  

People, that didn't stop me from trying. Nor did it stop me from driving 85 miles  from my front door to attend last Friday's Craft Cabinet event at the Salvage Life storefront in Long Beach. Salvage Life is a funky, feminine vintage shop, and its  decor helped set the creative tone of the evening. 

It was cool, and not a little surreal, to immediately recognize and introduce myself to the event organizers/hostesses Andrea and Jules.  Both are warm and friendly and especially in the case of Jules, I found myself able to chatter away like I've known her always. Or at least for the last year or so since I started reading her blog.
Funny how I can dive into certain conversations and babble away.  Not so funny, appalling actually, is how much I'm still a weirdo wallflower overall. Or maybe it was just that there seemed to be a large contingent of young bloggers who already knew one another, and it was hard wedge myself into their discussions.

But those are my own tedious issues, and they have nothing to do with how well-run the event was, or how the vibe of the evening was so laid back, warm and inviting to everyone in attendance.
I've been to two previous blogger meet-ups that were very informal non-events. (One was an unlikely bonfire at the beach.)  Strange to realize that this was actually my first "official" blog event. And it felt very bloggy to me: There was Twittering! There was Instagraming!  There was talk of blog conferences, and how weird it is when strangers on the street recognize you and your family from your blog. And most were savvy and smart enough to have business cards. 

Hmmm.  This is not so much my life, my experience. (Yet.)

But. There were also pretty, peach decorations and balloons and awesome catering: yummy salted caramel mini-cupcakes, and white wine and olives and a tasty caprese sandwich that I wish I'd been able to savor slowly, alone, instead of being paranoid that I had arugula stuck in my teeth. 
So, I did it. I went, forced myself out of my constricted little comfort zone, and
met strangers people.  Ta-dah!

Oh! And I "crafted," by which I mean I went to town with some washi tape and an Ikea planter.  Ta-dah, Part 2:
Lily was inordinately impressed with my handiwork.
(I'd brought my own craft that involved applying gold-leaf pen to a glass bowl, but foresaw me making a terrible mess whilst trying to also hold a conversation.)
It was really good to get out, meet some "real" bloggers and make some new connections.  On the long drive home in the hot August darkness, I  reminded myself that while I may not ever be much of a crafter, or a even a well-known blogger, I'm most definitely a writer, down to my bone marrow.  Weirdo observer tendencies and all. 

August 20, 2012

Beach Day in Oceanside

 Dang, it's been hot. So. Dang. Hot.  And for some reason, dang just feels like the best expletive for the situation. Like, Daaang.

We've been staying in the house a lot for the last two weeks, with the A/C running at 79 degrees.  79 still sounds pretty warm, but not so much, when it's 20 degrees cooler than outdoors.  It's been too hot to send the kids down to the park; too hot to go anywhere very local and just walk around.   On Saturday, we stayed indoors all day, went out for dinner in the evening, and came right back home.  Sunday, I was determined that we GET OUTSIDE. Somehow.

So we drove to the beach. But not for a "beach day" with umbrellas and picnic cooler and towels etc. etc.  This was more of a last minute, let's-just-get-outta-here sort of plan.  Our nearest beach is Oceanside, and as the crow flies, it's only 30 miles away.  The actual roads to get there are a bit more circuitous but even with heavy traffic in spots (what, I wasn't the only one with the beach idea?), it still took less than an hour to get there.

Oceanside is in north San Diego county, and it's a bit of a gritty, blue-collar town, compared to the tonier beach enclaves to the south like Del Mar or La Jolla.  It's long had a large military presence and population, with its close proximity to the sprawling Camp Pendleton Marines base just to the north. As such, there are lots of dark little dive bars and pubs and tattoo joints and barbershops offering military discounts.

We arrived at lunch time and found the cute '80s-themed diner, The Breakfast Club, a couple blocks from the shore.  It also serves sandwiches and burgers besides um, breakfast.
 We had a good time looking around at all the '80s album covers and movie posters on the wall, and spotting all the movie references in this mural:
Note the Delorean & Death Star in the sky. The Predator & Michael Jackson are in the surf.

Detail of another mural.  You know this one, right?
After the tasty grinds, it was off to the pier. Dang, you know it's hot when even the beach feels toasty. At 1,954 feet, the pier is the longest on the West coast, and it sure felt like it. I was sweating under the hot sun as we walked its full length, with nary a good breeze to cool us off. 
Stopping for the train.
Long walk on a long pier
Shark humor at the bait shop
Finally, after lots of grumbling about "kid torture" we went down to the sand and let the kids (and me) splash around.  I have to say, the kids did pretty well with my dire warnings to not get completely soaked -- we'd brought only one towel (which was left in the car) and no change of clothes.  It was low tide, so the bigger waves were pretty far out, which also helped them keep fairly dry.

Hopefully these young guys didn't notice me taking their picture. It just seemed  such an iconic shot, like the poster for Endless Summer.
Endless summer.  That pretty much sums it up around here this month.  I have a feeling I'll miss the sunshine (if not the heat) later this week, when we go up to the Central Coast to famously foggy and chilly Morro Bay for a family reunion.  Their forecast for this week has temps averaging at 62 degrees for the high.  Huh. From one extreme to another. Dang.

August 17, 2012

L.A. Music: Judy Garland, and Righting A Wrong

I've featured some older artists here in my L.A. Music series, but I've never gone so far back as this one.  And yes, I know Miss Frances Gumm was born in Minnesota, but since she landed in Hollywood and became a contract performer as a mere child, this totally counts.  Hell, Judy is one of those iconic artists who puts the H on the Hollywood sign. 

I'm featuring Judy Garland this week to honor my righting of a terrible wrong: At the ripe old ages of 10 and 7,  my children had never sat down to watch The Wizard of Oz.  {Pausing here to wait for your gasps and outraged mutterings to simmer down.}

I know.  I know!  How did things get to this point? Me! The daughter of two of the biggest old movie buffs around.  Me, who grew up watching both my parents sing and dance around the living room to MGM and Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals -- and my daddy was one fine dancer. 

Me, for whom the annual TV broadcast of The Wizard of Oz was one of the highlights of my year.   You know, back before VCRs and DVDs and Netflix and such.  (According to family lore, after my first viewing at age two, I cried at the end because I didn't want it to be over.) Me, who for too many years to count, blew out the candles on my birthday cake with the same fervent wish: that these beauties would somehow, some way become mine:
Image via
So on the last day of summer break, with the blinds shut tight against the sun and the A/C humming in the background, the kids and I sprawled out on the sectional and finally had us a viewing. Now, both kids have seen clips and snippets of the movie, but they'd never sat and watched the whole thing from beginning to end.  Is this just a dream? my analytic Tucker kept asking. Or is this really happening? Hmmmm, said I. 

My children may be of the modern age, but they watched it, and they loved it -- not enough to sob when it was over or demand to watch it again... but still.  Whew.  Major parenting tragedy averted.  And there are still so many wrongs to right, so many musicals and movies yet to watch.  (Every Christmas season I watch Meet Me in St. Louis, so at least that one's covered.) 

I'm not showcasing a song from the Wizard of Oz, because (hopefully) you know them all and they're all great. (Except for the Cowardly Lion's "King of the Forest." Hated it then, hate it now.)

Here's Judy singing "I Don't Care" from the smaller hit, In the Good Old Summertime.  I'm feeling very a bit anxious and self-conscious about meeting up with other bloggers and creative folks later tonight at the Craft Cabinet event in Long Beach.  In fact, I feel a little like this:
Image via.
"I Don't Care" is a good tonic for feeling overwhelmed and self-critical.  (Think"I Have Confidence" from Sound of Music, or "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl.)   Judy is a little spazzy and slapstick here, but as ever, she's wonderful.
I don't care, I don't care
If people frown on me,
Perhaps it's the wrong way, 
But I go my own way
That's my philosophy!

Happy Friday! And here's to embracing your inner drama queen. 

August 15, 2012

The New Year

So I had plans to do a book post today about some recent reads, but who am I kidding? Because what's really going on, the big deal of the day, is the first day of school. I have a second grader and a fifth grader.   If the blog has been a lot more kid-centric than usual lately, that's because it's been summer, and well, duh. 

I don't think I'm alone in feeling that the first day of school is really the first day of the new year.  Well, at least if you have school-age children. Or teach. (Or both.)

Summer break blew by pretty quickly, but that said...yeah, I'm totally ready for these little people to be back in school. They do better with routine, and so do I.  The lazing around until noon in our PJs has lost its novelty.  The yelling for them to stop running/shrieking/touching each other has really lost its novelty. (Actually, they play very well together despite the gender and nearly 3 year difference.)
And as for moi?  Well, I hope to buckle down and do a lot more writing, pen-to-paper style. Since January, I've devoted a lot of time and focus here to the blog and online in general, the result of which is that my "real" writing has taken a serious blow.  My goal has never been to grow into a big, popular blog, but merely to be present and share my rambles, of both the brain and the travel variety.  Oh, and maybe find some like-minded souls and meet a few new friends along the way.

To that end, I'm looking forward to meeting Jules and Andrea and some other SoCal bloggers this Friday evening in Long Beach, for a small crafting event. Since I suck at crafting, it's a good thing that the event is focused much more on meeting others than it is about busting out my mad glue-gun skills. At least I hope it is.  
Lily, a little pensive in front of her new fifth grade classroom. Her two best friends aren't at the school this year, so she's a little worried.  Unlike me though, she's socially fearless and makes friends easily.  (Actually, she makes acquaintances easily, and like me, has only a few close friends.) Still, I know how she feels. I'm a tad nervous myself about the event this Friday.  Knowing that it's small doesn't actually ease my mind.  (Nowhere to hide.)
 But like I tell her: it's going to be fine. Smile, be yourself, and remember, that in just a few hours, this will all be over and you'll be home and back where you can let your freak flag fly proudly.  Something we do a little too well around our house, actually.  

August 13, 2012

Night Swimming

None of us were too impressed by the tiny rectangle that passed as the main pool aboard our recent cruise.  I think my kids visited it once, for maybe an hour.

But we're a little spoiled by pools, because we have a great big one just a quick stroll away. (Only in these hottest days of summer do I wish for one in our own backyard. Now that would make us truly spoiled.) Our association has three pools: the big main one up above,  a good-sized "quiet" pool for those who want to escape the shrieks and splashes of kids, and a little square pool, barely 18 inches deep, for the toddler set.

Granted, if I didn't have kids, I'd probably rarely get suited up and go down to the pool. But since I do, we walk there once or twice a week all summer.  (And it really is close by: on the most crowded afternoons, I can hear the low din of kids and the whistle of the security guard from my house.)

 A summer highlight for the kids the last couple of years has been when we visit the pool in the early evening, and my husband shows up awhile later with a take-out pizza and sodas for all.  They love this. They love the pool at dusk, they love the novelty of dinner poolside, and most of all, they love having their daddy in the water with them.
When we did our evening swim this past Friday, it was at the end of such a long and brutally hot day, the ever-chilly pool water was actually warm for once.
School starts up again this Wednesday. I just got a call yesterday, informing me that Lily's first fall soccer practice is Tuesday evening.  And we go.  Off to the races of another school year.
Like I've said before, our weather is only just now hitting its heat stride.  September and October are typically the hottest months of the year in SoCal.  I know we'll have plenty more visits to the pool before what passes for "fall" truly hits.  Evening swims? I don't know. 

But at least we got this one in.  It was up near the top of the kids' "Must Do" lists for the summer.  For the record, I think we did pretty damn good.

August 10, 2012

L.A. Music: War and Summertime

It's been forever since I've done an L.A. Music post, but I wanted to get one in before the end of summer.  Technically, summer will be around for another month, and with it just now getting seriously hot around here, we'll be sporting our flip-flops well into October.  But summer-as-concept, the lazy, unstructured stay-up-late summer, is ending next week for my kids. 

In honor of SoCal summers, and our recent cruise down to Mexico, land of my maternal forebears, here's War.  War is the iconic sound of Mexican-American/Latino/Chicano culture in 1970s SoCal.  Take your pick on the label. 

I want to say a lot of complicated things about culture, and race, and the world that I grew up in, being a half-white, half-Mexican-American girl myself.  How in my junior high art class, most of the full-blood Latino boys drew complicated, colored pencil shaded renditions of the WAR logo and low rider cars. (And the few white boys drew swords and Eddie from Iron Maiden.)
But it's too hot too delve too deeply into those memories, or play dime-store sociologist.  Like, 105 degrees hot.

So later today, I'm going to crack open a beer and kick up my bare and very browned summer feet. I'll reminisce about the little white houses on Slauson Ave. that are no longer there, and the alleyways behind them off of Serapis St., with yards full of pottery and cactus and bougainvillea draped over the wooden fences.  About walking to the TG&Y drugstore with my second cousins for Hersey bars, how the smell of Irish Spring reminds me of my great-aunt scrubbing down my dirty, sweaty arms on summer afternoons, before my mom came over to pick me up after she got off work. 

How my older second-cousin had long black hair and sported the uniform of the cholas without quite being a chola herself, and how she played her 45s of War on her portable record player in the tiny, tidy living room. 
And it sounded like this (apologies for the video with cheesy graphic, it was all I could find with the original single version).

Happy Friday!  And here's to time of year.

August 8, 2012

Carnival Cruise Trip Report, Pt. 2: Port Days

Coming into Cabo, Day 1
 With over 550 photos to sort through, it was hard for me to winnow down the ones that best represent the two ports and our experiences.  Let's get on with it.  As y'all know, I can be pretty verbose, but I'm gonna (try) to let the images do most of the talking.

Port 1: Cabo San Lucas
The cruise ship spent two days in Cabo. I think this is a fairly new development; as recently as a year ago, the itinerary included three different ports along the Pacific coast -- the other was Mazatlan.  Unfortunately because of the drug violence in Mexico and safety issues, every cruise line has pulled that port. So, we had two days in Cabo.  (The ship leaves the harbor and returns to international waters overnight, so that the casinos and duty-free shops can remain open.)  Cabo is also a "tender" port, meaning that the ship doesn't actually dock in stays just off the coast, and passengers need to take a smaller boat to "tender" onto shore. 

On our first Cabo day, we arrived onshore sometime before noon and walked around exploring some nearby streets and the touristy little shops. 

After about an hour of looking like the sweaty, clueless tourists that we were, we rode a water taxi across the bay to popular Medano Beach.  There are literally dozens of water taxis vying (loudly, and mostly in English) for tourist dollars; we paid about $20 roundtrip.  The water taxi dropped us off in the water, and we asked him to return in a couple of hours.  (We were slightly leery of this, but he did in fact return on time.)  From my research, I asked the operator to drop us off by The Office, one of the many cantina/bars right on the sand.  For the price of lunch and/or drinks, you can sit and enjoy the beach as long as you'd like. 

On the water taxi

Cruise ship in the background
For day 2 in Cabo, we had an snorkeling excursion booked with Pez Gato, a private tour operator that gets great reviews on both the Cruise Critic boards and Trip Advisor. 
It's another Tequila Sunrise.
First time snorkel...we brought the kids own equipment.
Yes, this happened.  (Post-snorkeling) When in Cabo...
The iconic Cabo Arc, at Land's End: tip of the Baja peninsula
They say that if you don't go out and see the arc, you don't see Cabo.  We did view it from the Pez Gato boat, but I've had to crop the shots down to edit out the noggins of other folks. (And those were the ones taken by my tall husband.)  Regret: not paying one of the smaller water taxis to speed us over there for some better, close-up shots of the area.  

Port 2: Puerto Vallarta
After leaving Cabo in the late afternoon on Wednesday, we powered south and arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Thursday morning.  Right away, I liked the feeling that we were finally someplace far from home.  Cabo was okay, but the arid desert landscape and distant dry hills looked an awful lot like Southern California. Which it sorta is, still.  PV felt foreign, and in a good way. It felt lush and tropical, with the hills carpeted in green trees, rather than dry grass.  As we watched the boat dock from our starboard balcony, we spotted colorful butterflies hovering in the air.

Today we had another excursion booked, this time through Carnival. We stepped off the cruise ship and hovered around the marina area for about an hour, until it was time to get on another boat.  This time we were being taken by the Vallarta Adventures company an hour down the coastline, to their privately owned beach hideaway,  Las Caletas.

Las Caletas gets rave reviews on many sites, and it's beautiful and remote. It would look and feel even more beautiful and remote if it wasn't crowded and teeming with a large boatload of cruise passengers.  But here's a few shots without people.

If you look closely at the above shot, you can spy some hammocks between the trees, snagged by some lucky folks. (There were quite a few hammocks around the property, if you acted fast.)  Nobody in our family was chillin' in a hammock, though. Instead, after the buffet lunch, we climbed into the lush hills to the Kids Adventure area.  Here, the kids got suited up for a quick, kid-friendly set of zip lines, and were startled after getting clambered upon by some little capuchin monkeys.
And we, the assorted parent and grandparents, got to pull a rope and lead the kids up toward the zip-line on some little donkeys.
Tucker on Lupe. 
This was a lot of fun for the kids.  And though I don't have many of our own shots, I previewed an album's worth of zip line, monkey, and donkey photos that we later ordered on CD from the company. (It should arrive in a few days.)  This was a lot of fun for the kids, but was not quite the relaxing beach day I'd envisioned.  After the Kid Adventure, it was time to hit the beach and cool off in the water.  The kids had fun (again), while the Husband and I searched in vain for any remaining chairs in the shade.  Not happenin.'
Lots of people, on land and in the water
Oh well.  It was lovely, the staff were unfailingly polite and helpful and we had fun swimming in the ocean, getting in some (rather poor) snorkeling, and soaking up the views. The boat trip back was entertaining, as members of the staff put on a rockin' show for us, featuring a pretty fair Mexican Freddie Mercury.  (You had to be there.)

Regrets: Both the Husband and I wished that we'd had 2 days in Puerto Vallarta rather than Cabo.  I really wish we'd gotten to explore more of the authentic flavor of this port, rather than spend all of our time on a canned (and not inexpensive) ship excursion.  On the other hand, figuring out the taxis and layout of a foreign city with two talkative kids would've been a whole different set of stresses, too.

But I don't want to wrap up the trip reports with regrets.  Every vacation has its own unique set of roads not taken, or choices curtailed by the clock.  Overall, we had a most excellent time, one that all of us will be talking about and remembering for a long time to come. 
And if you happened to notice the total lack of photos including the Husband in either of these Trip Reports, let's just say that it's my little favor to him, after the afternoon here in the ship's Spectacular theater, during a "Newlywed Game" type of marriage show:
I'm not going to say for sure that he danced on this stage in nothing but his skivvies in front of the audience, or that it was re-broadcast on the ship's TV station for the next 24 hours, or that strangers (and our room steward) kept coming up to him to uh, compliment his wicked dance moves.  I'm not going to say that did happen, but it might have. And after all that possible exposure on a ship with 3,000 passengers, I'm doing him the courtesy of keeping his face (and other parts) off the interwebs here.  And you're welcome, honey!

Questions, comments, inquiries about our family's first cruise experience?  I'll be happy to answer whatever I can about the two ports, or the Carnival Splendor itself, in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading through and coming aboard on our journey.

Read Part 1 of my Trip Report, about our experience on the ship itself, here.
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