Moonlighting @ Encinitas

We’ve worked our way north along the coastline, and while I was planning to go much further north to Carlsbad maybe, or head south to Pacific Beach and catch some World Famous fish tacos, I’m tired. We’ll come back later and hit some more. I’d love to show you around the Hotel Del in Coronado.

But today, we’re hanging out in Encinitas, and the first agenda item is having breakfast at Honey’s. Step up, pay for your order and go grab a table on the sidewalk if you can. People watching in Encinitas is half the fun and everyone from locals to tourists are popping in for coffee, muffins, or the whole acai bowl topped with bee pollen thing. Encinitas takes it’s vegetarian, laid back, dog loving beachy vibe seriously. You should be comfortable with dreadlocks, spandex, hot yoga, and enlightenment. Even the homeless folks shuffling along the sidewalk fit right in.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

On this piece of Coast Highway 101 they will close down for a 10K or their massive annual Street Fair. There are funky resale shops next to Gardenologie next to frozen yogurt next to bars. The Farmer’s Market is every Wednesday from 4-7pm. Roxy’s is just down the block; we’ll come back after the beach and have falafel or veggie burritos, yeah? Or maybe you’d rather go have Thai? Curry followed with plum or green tea ice cream.

Now that we’re full of delicious goodness, let’s drive over to Moonlight. The roomy parking lot on the bluff top has two ramps dropping down to the beach. You can see right away the playground on the right and the volleyball courts beyond it towards the ocean. To the left you’ll see a brand new facility that includes spacious bathrooms, showers, and a snack bar. Across the middle walkway are the lifeguard tower and toys. They designed it brilliantly with a flat rooftop stage area. During the summer, they host bands there above the beach, efficiently using every inch of this compact space.

You’ll see the fire rings, picnic tables in the center. And beyond all this…the Pacific. Let’s head out toward the water and put our stuff down. The beach stretches out north and south, we can wander either direction. The surf is a little bigger here, the seaweed comes and goes. Let’s watch some two-man volleyball first. I can play a mean game of smash ball, if you brought it. This is the beach you come to when you play hooky from work, where the nannies bring their young charges for “outside activities”, and where all you want to do, really, is relax and enjoy the fresh salt air. I can feel my curly hair twisting into dreadlocks as we speak. Look, a couple of dolphins are going by.

(Here is some space inserted for taking a very long nap in the warm sand, while the ocean breeze runs over the dunes and the seagulls cry loudly back by the snack bar…I hear a kid crying by the snack bar too, but he doesn’t count in this scenario…commence napping)

The day is almost over. I’m glad you got to enjoy the water and the beaches with us.  A large group of people has slowly gathered on the sand. They sit in a circle and everyone has a drum of some kind. One person begins the slow deep rhythm, and one by one the beat is picked up. Enjoy the impromptu entertainment while we all watch for the green flash as the sun drops its last bit of golden disk below the horizon. The bonfires are sending wispy smoky smells our way and it’s time to snuggle into hoodies. You hear a train pass in the distance behind us.

There’s a saying on bumper stickers out here: “No Bad Days”

True enough.


Gym Gymminie

My daughter cracks me up. When she was in high school, she was sitting with a small circle of friends during lunch listening to them discuss everything from weight to body image. They didn’t realize how much whining, in general, goes on within a gaggle of females regarding the female form. My girl decided that they weren’t loving themselves nearly enough, and got the ball rolling by announcing that she was going to name her teensy little poochy muffin top “Cloe”. She was going to love it, hug it, and treat it with all dignity and respect, as it represented all the happy foods she’d enjoyed lately. And when she ever decides that Cloe simply must go, she will politely invite her to leave via the mountain in our backyard.

It’s our family’s muffin-top remover of choice.

I myself prefer the gym for several reasons. It’s open at all the completely random times I have an hour to spare for sweating. It never has weather. There are no rattlesnakes. It always has restrooms. And there’s a TV monitor everywhere you look!

Color me crazy, but I only have time to watch TV when I go to the gym. I pick a machine in front of the channel I like. I can time it for the news, or Oprah or the Home Improvement shows. Or watch them all simultaneously.

But heaven help me! I have a major weakness for the cooking channel.

I went to the gym this morning and half the TVs had cooking shows on.  Seriously?  I’m trying to remove cheesecakes from my past here and they’re showing me how to make them.  And a really beautiful egg roll dish, and some excellent BBQ ribs.  I wasn’t too excited about the “beans n greens” soup recipe, but still.  I came home and now I’ve got two chickens simmering on the stovetop and some eggs were just hard boiled and I’ve got the stuff out to start the cinnamon rolls next. You gotta love the gym.

I carried five wonderful children in turn, and each one left me with an extra special bit of muffin-top that I fear is going to be a friend for life. I ought to pick a name for it that reflects its honorable and historical significance. “Bertha” seems about right.

So far this month, we got ourselves a new swimsuit and some new manners for our beach trips. I’m really not here to help you get a new body to go with it. Your body is all yours. You get to be in charge of it and all I really think is that you ought to love it and treat it with respect, since it’s all the body you get. No matter who else comes and goes in your long and triumphant life, your body is going to be right there with ya.

May as well give it a hug. Maybe a little pat on the back for getting you this far.

I’ll be spending all of May in the kitchen, which is one of my happy places for sure. I’ll also get around to telling you about zumba and yoga and turbo kick boxing. But right now, I’m just totally craving muffins!


Surfing @ Swami’s


Surf’s up beach bums! Are we psyched?  Are we stoked? The waves are really juicy today; glassy, cool, totally sweet, awesome and rad.

Saweeeeet! Is that dude trunkin? Trippy. Where’s your suit?

We’re gonna hang ten on the nose. We’re gonna see some righteous surfing out there! Let’s see you in the tube; shoot the pipe dude! Gnarly! Check out the sharkbait! Let’s go tribe!

My dad is a silver surfer. A gray. A senior. He’s a swami. And this is where he hangs.

At the north end of our stretch of beach, next to the Swami’s self-realization resort and spa, is a tiny parking lot at the top of a flight of steps leading to Swami’s beach. Surfers save parking spots for each other and most of the time this tiny lot is as entertaining as the beach below it.

Go ahead and circle it slowly a couple of times just for fun.

You’ll see surfers in every stage of undress, in every kind of vehicle, age, hairdo, body art and discussion. Enjoy the tiki carved into what’s left of a cut down tree in the little grassy area by the road. Park if you’re lucky, otherwise use the highway but watch for bikes!

Yeah, there’s a bike path, but they abandoned it to the stroller pushing power walking moms in spandex and take their chances with the speeding topless convertibles who are watching the amazing view of ocean and mom-spandex, and not the road.

There is one small bathroom at the parking lot and then a looong staircase down to the beach. Be sure you go before you go, ya know? Don’t be surprised if the toilet paper is all gone. Every power-walking mom stops here along her route, and every surfer and tourist. I get it.

But probably the resident bag lady has something to do with it as well.

She’s the one on the bench there surrounded by all of her worldly possessions in plastic grocery bags. It’s hard to tell what she possesses because all of it is also wrapped up in newspaper. And she steps, periodically, into the ladies and carefully wraps up a supply of TP for her own mysterious reasons. I’ve never asked.

My dad has been surfing here and there for a great many years. He is still not considered a local by the locals. He’s seen surfers go all aggro but also met some chill bruddas. His board is cherry. He knows how to shape blanks and glass them.

He’ll be happy to take you out and show you the basics.  Watch out for hotdoggers.

I myself will be holding down the beach. I’m a gaper fo sho. No shame. I brought my camera.

While we’re heading down 138 wooden stair steps, glance left (south) and you’ll see that this strip of sand will take us back over to Pipes, where we walked last week. High tide removes the beach between them, but you can stroll along the asphalt walkway up top anytime. Watch out for those strollers.

If we got here during low tide, we’ll walk right (north) and check out the awesome tide pools. Look for octopus and sea urchins, with anemones and mussels thick on the sharp reef. Tiny fish are caught in small pools along with crabs in the rocks, waiting for the Pacific to return. Watch your step.

I would like to fill you in on the procedures to take should you ever come in from a surf session and step down onto a sting ray. These buggers drift on the sand in any depth of water and surprisingly hate when people step on them. I’m sure you feel the same.

Okay, what to do when one barbs you in the ankle. Scream like a little girl. Bleed profusely. Both of these are good things. Do NOT pee on it. That’s for jellyfish.

Let a lifeguard boil you a bucket of saltwater and stick your foot in it to soak. Add some mussels and a dash of spirulina. When the soup is ready…no, just kidding. When you think you can possibly hobble to the car, go home and take a fist full of pain killers.

Watch your foot morph over the next week, going from pus filled blisters to open weeping sores to scabby healing wounds. Wonder if you can take the hole it made and use it in some kind of creative tattoo to remember the occasion by. Never surf again.

Just kidding again.

Return to surfing immediately, because that’s the kind of awesome gnarly wave-riding dude you are.

Stop by the Java Hut for a hot coffee when you’re done.

Tell ‘em Dale sent you.

Hang loose, dude. Hasta luego.

Beach Bum Etiquette: What Every Tourist Needs to Know

Okay my sand seeking sun loving vacation raging buddies! Here’s the deal for hitting our beaches with class, and keeping your wits about you in the process.  We love you to visit, but there are a few things you need to know right up front, and the tour books are not going to tell you.

1) When you finally arrive at the beach, lugging enough paraphernalia for a camping trip, and start down the beach looking for prime real estate to set up shop, please spread out. What I mean is, if you find there is plenty of sand to go around, please stop putting your base camp two feet from my own. All I have is two towels laid out and a knapsack. Do you really need to park your igloo cooler right in front of my view of the ocean? Which way is the wind blowing? Are your kids actually going to start tossing sand into my stuff while I listen to you debate where to plant the beach umbrella? Do not make me have to mention “playing with jellyfish” to little Timmy.

2) When you show up wearing civilian clothes, I have to watch you during the next two hours, slowly ruining and removing them. Don’t even bother taking your shoes and socks out of your car. Flip-flops are a good choice if your tender feet have never seen fresh air before, and buy cheap ones because they will not stay on more than ten minutes and they will either be forgotten, washed out by the tide, or buried in the sand by little Timmy. Do not wear jeans. Have you ever felt the misery that is wet denim? Go ahead, roll them up. Pretend you’re only going to stick your toes in the water. I’ll wait.

There, did I tell you so?

3) Once your clothes are off, for the love of Aunt Mabel (you brought her, too, didn’t you?) put on sunscreen. You can borrow mine. But you are going to have fried fannies, among other parts and I can’t look at you without cringing. It is NOT a badge of honor that you burnt. It means you can’t take care of your skin. You will not acquire a California tan in one day or even a week of vacationing, so please don’t try the hard way.

4) Okay, this one gets a bit tricky. We are in California, not Spain, and as emancipated and progressive as we claim to be, we will shudder EVERY TIME you guys get down to a pair of Speedos. Please don’t make us watch you strip down and then change into Speedos. We rock the swim trunks/board shorts here. My son played water polo in high school, so I can see there’s certain liberation when a guy is that secure in his manhood, although my kid always doubled up on game days, since teams tried hard to “pants” each other when no one was looking. I don’t know. Call me uptight if you must, but while Europe has embraced the human body in all of its glorious diversity, we modest Americans are also scandalized by topless sunbathing. You’ll get a ticket. Don’t do that either.

5) Seagulls are flying vermin. We won’t feed your basement rats and you shouldn’t feed our gulls. Squirrels are also an issue on beaches full of rock or ice plant bluffs. You will hear them chirping from their look-out perches, signaling to the squirrel pups that lunch is about to be served. The minute you dash to the water, the critters attack your camp. The seagulls know how to open your bags, grab anything in Ziplocs, and fight up and down the beach trying to rip them open. I had a squirrel actually chew a hole through a cloth backpack and run off with my granola bar. I think they used the silver wrapper as wallpaper in their burrow. Gr.

We also frown on littering, smoking, alcohol and dogs (with a couple of exceptions) but these tips should get you started off right. You may choose to attack our beaches in your own unique and special way, of course. I enjoy hearing all of your accents and watching you look around at everyone else while pretending you’re not. It’s hilarious that you think because I’m wearing sunglasses and a hat that I can’t see or hear you. Yes, I know where the sharks are. Yes, I could teach you the “sting-ray shuffle”.  But little Timmy might not want to put his bucket of crabs down right beside me.

Not if you’re wearing Speedos.

Camping @ San Elijo Beach

I hope you came prepared today. We’re going to tramp along the beach and the infamous Route 101 and take in the sights. When we’re done, we’ll find our camping spot and settle in for the night. Have you ever camped at the beach? You’re in for a treat! California campgrounds are notoriously hard to get into, but lucky for you, our reservations were made online months in advance. Don’t let me hear you say the word “trailer”! Sleep in a tent, zip open the windows and enjoy the sound, smell, and breeze of the waves. Okay, once in a while you’ll hear a train, but that’s just part of the fun.

25 miles north of San Diego, between Encinitas and Solana Beach, is the San Elijo State Beach. The campground sits between the 101 and the top of the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, and below it runs the beach.

Park along the highway, watching carefully for bikes in the bike lane before actually opening your door. We’re going to walk down the ramp here to the spot called “Pipes”. Use the restroom before we go, otherwise you’ll just get comfortable on the beach before you realize there’s a hill between you and the facilities. While I wait, I’ll just enjoy the view from up here.  Surfers ride the breaking waves, pelicans glide in long dipping lines searching for fish, and the Pacific stretches out into forever.

Ready then? Let’s go!

We are in the middle of a long narrow-ish stretch of beaches going north and south, inclusively called “Cardiff-by-the-Sea” but today we are headed towards the south. We’ll go north next week.

The tide is fairly out right now and you’ll see locals going for a run, biking, or maybe fishing in the surf, and campers playing Frisbee or football and hanging out with their families. Stop a minute, and I’ll show you how to pull up some sand crabs. They’re tickling little things.

You can see as we walk, that here and there the bluff has “failed”. That means the sand had an avalanche. You don’t want to rest up close to the bluff, okay? Come to think of it, our campsite sits on the top of this bluff. I figure we can tie a guide rope from the tent to a tree tonight, just in case.

There are six massive staircases along this stretch, connecting up top to the campground. We’re going to watch local guys with their personal trainers go all the way to the top and back of every one of them. You can cheer them on or laugh, either way. I still have a coffee in my hand, so don’t look at me. At the south end, where the San Elijo lagoon river mouth runs inland and the beach ends and the seaweed piles up in drifts, we’ll use the campground bathrooms before stepping up to the highway.

Let’s rest a moment, now that we’re back on the 101, and take a photo with Cardiff’s signature sculpture: The Cardiff Kook.

The locals severely criticized this surfer statue; you can read all about it on his website. Not kidding.  So naturally, they took their wacky sense of humor and artsy attitude and decorated the heck out of it when no one was looking. They named a local race after it. They put him on postcards. He has been decorated more times than the president. My favorite of all time: the shark eating him alive. Oh yeah.

Looks like we’re ready to pull in the car and set up camp. I brought the firewood. You get the guide ropes. Dude. Where’s the tent? I am not sleeping in the trunk again.


The Swimsuit Edition

For my daughters…in case I never got around to actually giving you this heart-felt mother-daughter speech. Sorry guys, this one is for the ladies. Avert your eyes until next week!

When you go swimsuit shopping, go alone. Your sisters and your girlfriends love you, but they will also distract you. If you have to ask…you already know the answer! Go to the mall on a Wednesday morning in April when you actually have choices and no crowds. Stay focused. Ignore the sales rack of cute blouses and the shoes calling you across the aisle. Know you are going to try on a zillion suits until you get it right. But please. Get it right.  When you find the exact right suit, be willing to pay anything for it. Because it’s all that is going to come between you and the staring-but-pretending-not-to-look humanity at the pool and beach.

For what will you be wearing this scrap of fabric? A crochet, beaded, or fringed suit is not good for sitting on wet concrete.  Deep colors are going to fade in chlorinated pools. Please, I’m telling you right now, but you are not listening, do NOT buy a white suit. You can’t get it wet in the dressing room. So you will not find out until WAY too late that it becomes entirely see-through in the water. Yes, even the lined ones. Sorry. You’re going to want to rethink the skirt-suit. You think things are going to be covered a bit more…until you jump into the water. Skirts float ya’all. They float up. Now you look like a jellyfish.

I hope you’re being sensible and trying on suits in a size or two larger than you think you are. Suits are sized wickedly by the fabricators in Indonesia where the average woman is 5’ tall and 85#. American women are big and beautiful, thank you, so own it. Labels be damned. We’ll rip them out later.

Your new suit will have to pass the trial by fire in the dressing room before ever you take it home: you put it on and do some major calisthenics and several good jumping jacks. Bend over and pretend to pick up a seashell. Now stand up, turn around, and look at your backside. Can you see it? Test failed.

Do not wait until you join an impromptu volleyball game or a rogue wave knocks you over to discover that you will have a swimsuit malfunction.

I’m not going to be hard lined about the one piece vs two piece suit debate. I’ve seen great looking suits of both kinds out there and I think wearing athletic clothes to the beach or shorts or skirts is fine, too. Err on the side of modesty and self respect. What matters is does it fit everywhere and could you conquer the world in it if you had to?

My mom speech is almost over. I want to finish with the most important part of your outfit.

Skin cancer is nasty stuff. I had it on my nose, ME, the queen of sunscreen. If I can get it, anyone can. It does not discriminate; your youth is not a preventative. Don’t ever ever ever take your pretty skin out into the sun without wearing sunscreen on every inch of it. Find yourself cute hats with wide brims, movie star sunglasses, filmy breezy cover-ups, and hard core sunscreen. Wear it all. You are avoiding cancer, wrinkles, brown spots, cataracts, and headaches.

Rest assured you will still develop a tan. It just won’t try to kill you.

Thanks for listening. I love you.


Lounging @ La Jolla Shores

Welcome to “The Jewel”. If you come out for a visit, we have beaches all up and down the coast, each with a different feel and activity level.  I’ll take you on a trip to four of ours, starting with a very popular international destination. La Jolla Shores has plenty of parking, a brand new lifeguard facility, kid’s playground, good bathrooms, showers, lots of grassy area and lots of groomed sand. It sits in a large cove, making the whole area flat, surrounded by the rolling bluffs of town around it. There is a spacious feel, a wonderful view in all directions, and a flat, gentle ocean that invites all ages out for a dip.

Because of the smaller waves, this is the place where groups take surfing lessons, scuba diving, and kayak tours. You will see paddle boarders, swimmers, and snorkelers out by the buoys, and usually seals, sea lions, dolphins, or the seasonal leopard shark communities. If you pop on a mask and go out to join them, you will discover sting rays on the bottom, corbina and other local fish along side of you.  Keep floating south toward the reefs and you may even find Garibaldi. The entire area is an ecological reserve; it’s illegal to remove any marine life.

Lounge on the beach with me facing the ocean and glance left, to the south. You will see tiny La Jolla Cove tucked into the point of land that thrusts from the coastline. Those folks had a ridiculous time finding a parking space and then hiked down the stairs into the Cove, which is crowded, especially during high tide which pushes all the humans up against the bluff but they are not going to leave because, darn it, they finally have a parking space up there. If you find yourself over there, pack all your gear back into your car (ignore all the other cars stalking you, wondering if you might be leaving so THEY can have your spot. It’s mean to linger and tease them!). Take your camera and walk along the bluff top south towards Seal Beach and you will have lovely views, and some nice grassy areas that you could enjoy. If all the kids in the whole world weren’t having their birthday parties there, that is.

Sit up and follow the hilltops visually along to the southeast behind us and you’ll see the tall cross on Mount Soledad. It’s a short drive there and the view is worth it. Continuing in our circular tour, you’ll see ba-zillion dollar mansions all over the hillsides from south to north. They have nice views, eh? Pick out which one you want to live in someday. The one obviously calling your name. Then remember to make a ba-zillion dollars when you go back home so you can retire here. Then ask me over for tea.

The campus for UCSD has many buildings around the area, and some can be seen as you hit the north end of our view. The Scripps Institute for Oceanography sits there and stretches out a long pier into the Pacific for their research needs. You can walk down there later and observe college students observing barnacle “habitats” living on the pier footings. The students and the barnacles appear to have identical energy levels. Just saying. The college accounts for all of the young adults lying around out here “studying”, and their parents from around the world, who are out for a visit. It’s common to hear different languages and accents spoken on this beach.

At this point, you’ve probably noticed something really awesome. No, not the co-eds! The bluffs to the north take a radical turn skyward and leaping from their heights are hang gliders. You can drive up there and watch them from above, listening to the shrieks and joining in on them, but I prefer the view from right where we are. They float along like dandelion puffs and I don’t have to see how close to smashing into the cliffs they come or hear the unintelligible obscenities or even the blissful, awestruck look on their faces as they become one with the sky, the view, and the….I’m sorry, HOW do they land those things? In the water? On the beach? Back onto the bluff? I have never seen one land. Perhaps they have been up there for years, the same guys, living off rainfall and randomly captured seagulls. I don’t want to know.

I probably will never know because the beach directly below that cliff is Black’s Beach, an infamous nude beach that you have to get down maybe 3,000 steps from the bluff to access. I suppose if you’re a local and go frequently, the exercise has you in good enough shape to toss your garments, but I’m never going to be curious enough to find out.

Wait, where are you going? I took you to this beach! Hey, come back!

And The Winner Is…Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

So I’ll wait with my poker face on while she deliberates whether it’s safe to stretch her word far enough into the double word zone but with a letter I may not be able to stretch into a triple later.  To play the S or not to play the S, that is a question.  Also, how many Ds are there in the game?  You could count them up and roll the dice accordingly.  Well, we don’t use dice but it’s an idea.  Perhaps a Magic 8 Ball would come in handy once in a while.  So she’ll put the word out there and maybe it’s only because it was “a really cool word” and it had to be played, points or no points.  Yep, it’s a really cool word all right.  Too bad I’m going to roll right over the top of it and play my X word into the red territory and pull into the lead by 30 points.  Ha.

“Cheater.”  Spoken softly through clenched teeth and with eyes slitted sideways at me.

“I know.”  Carefree.  Confident.  True.  I had looked up every X word variable and stumbled onto this one.  Research pays off.

“What does it mean?”

“An African unit of money.”

“I don’t know how you sleep at night.”

“Me neither.”

And so the tension mounts, as much from our surroundings as from the slowly filling board.  We have to keep vigilant peripheral vision to stop a crawling or stumbling child from landing on the board (we usually play on the floor with cushions) and if someone needs the facilities or to grab a coffee refill, the other is bound to keep her hands off the tiles.  And no peeking on the other gal’s tray either.  Years ago we decided that really cheating for goodness sake was no fun at all.  When the game ends and you realize there are eight blanks played, you know you’ve been duped and neither your victory nor your defeat is worth much.

“Argh!! There is nothing on my tray but junk!”

“I’ll sell you a vowel.  I’ve got four Es.”

“Too bad you have the Q.  And the J, I’m sure.”

“That just means I’m getting all the points.  Too bad you’re gonna lose again.”

“I know.”

“Seriously, I’ll give you a hundred bucks for a T if you got one.”

Our games last about an hour give or take.  We rarely have to prod each other on to make a move.  The closer to the end of the game you get, the trickier the moves have to be, especially if the score is even.  We’ve each made up a 50 point deficit and both know the joy of going from underdog to top dog in the end.  Anything is possible, and somehow attitude is a major component of if and when fickle lady luck decides to join your side.

Don’t give us a chess board or Stratego or invite us over for a game of poker.  We can’t count, we don’t need to think more than one step ahead, and if we are interrupted twenty times in the hour, you wouldn’t expect us to be able to play anything in a straight line.  We tried the online scrabble game, the ones in phones and one on Facebook.  Once in a while we gather a crowd and really cut loose with a game of Take Two.  But it’s just not the same.  No one else can quite grasp the sentiment.

“That is SO not a word.”

“A rubber-soled cloth shoe.  From Norway.”

“Oh whatever.  Can you add an -ER to it?”

“Because then the shoe is shoeier?”

The notebook has a few blank pages left in it.  Maybe if we could get together more than a couple times a year it would go faster, but we’re patient people.  And I need to add more words to the Dictionary.


And The Winner Is…Part 1

In my game closet there is a small spiral notebook with years of score keeping running through it.  Red ink, black ink, doodles and stars adorn the margins and some pages have been torn out and tossed ceremonially into a trashcan.  The columns are kept clearly separated and labeled for the most part “Me” and “You”.  Occasionally there was a third player but those pages don’t count.

The players of course, are my sister and I.  Our game of games: Scrabble.

Clear back to the opening pages, I was home with tiny children and my younger sister was doodling variations of “Mrs. B…..” with little hearts on the backside of the scoreboard while waiting for her turn and her future.  Later pages have her lists of possible baby names between tile counts.  This in itself will tell you who normally keeps our running tally.  Big sister trumps little sister, so big sister claims to hate math and can spend the entire game accusing little sister of cheating.  But I’m just too lazy to check her work.  The truth is, she could rob me blind in the score keeping and I wouldn’t have a clue.  There are a couple of pages that end somewhere in the middle of a game that had to be forfeited due to interrupted baby naptimes or a dinner that could no longer be delayed.  But for the most part, my kid sister keeps a beautiful book of numbers.

A circled final winning score shows the end of each match.  Each match brings the updated tally of wins per sister an inch closer to fame and fortune.  If someone played a seven letter coup, it is duly recorded in the margin. If a truly amazing triple was played, there may be stars and notations included.  Early on we played a game where my sis must have been highly caffeinated.  Apparently, she broke 500 points by playing “cartels” and “leakings” along triples.  Even my spell check says that last one is NOT a word.  Most of the time we break 300 each by the game’s end.

You won’t hear me say it out loud.  (Cheater.)

OK, so what is not written down, but guaranteed to have been a large part of the game, is the running dialogue between us, each of whom is equally skilled and both of whom have predetermined herself as the winner of a game not yet played.  We sit down for our games with an aura of victory and the sure knowledge that our worthy competitor is already shaking her head in pity for our loss.

“According to the scorebook, it’s my turn to win today.  You won last time.”

“Yes, but we’re playing at my house.  My house, my rules.  My rule: I’m winning today.”

“Did I or did I not just bring you a coffee?  You have to let me win.”

“Look, I’ll prove it.  I’ll draw my letter.  There.  See?  I pulled out an H.  Clearly the fates have chosen me to go first, and win the game.”

“Pfffft.  There.  Looking like my B is going to trump your H and me and your fates are gonna have a good laugh today.”

“We’ll just see about that.  Pass me the book.”

And now a note about The Book.  We have a couple of our own rules.  What would be the fun of any game if you were stuck with somebody else’s rules?  The game board score boxes of course make sense as do the face values of the tiles and so forth.  But honestly, if I have to actually think while playing a game surrounded by children you are kidding me.  I have a well used and much loved Scrabble Player’s Dictionary and it travels with the game.  There’s no wasting time thinking up a word that may or may not in fact be a word, playing it, and then having to waste more time in challenging it.  If you have to look it up anyway, why on earth not just do it to begin with?  Sheesh.

We have discovered more new words than you can possibly imagine.  We have actually discovered the reverse as well and had to pencil in words that ARE words.  Why was “understand” omitted?  Seriously, it’s not there, and neither is “underwear”.  And there are words in there that I know for a fact can NOT be words, and yet there they are.  You can take a tray of ridiculous letters that in no way shape or form are ever gonna be a word, but if on the off chance you could play a Q in the four spaces of a triple box, by golly you start thumbing through the Q section.  What do you know?  My, my, you learn something new every day.  It never ceases to amaze me what qualifies as a word.  And apparently the makers of the book left no stone unturned.  We have an unspoken agreement that we won’t play a word that is in unsavory taste.  Unless it gives us a bazillion points, in which case we don’t let the kids watch.

All’s fair in love and Scrabble.

(Part 2 here.)

Sven’s World: Our Interview with a Travelling Gnome

We’re here to interview Sven on a lovely morning at his home in sunny California, US of A. He stands all of 3” tall, black boots planted squarely on the coffee table, valise held at the ready, and full of perky expectation.

Q: Good morning, Sven. Thank you for giving us the chance to meet you. You appear ready to dash out the door at any moment. I’ve heard that you claim to be ready to travel at a moment’s notice.

Sven: Yes! It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. I lived in a bookstore briefly and met a fellow by the name of Flat Stanley. After hearing his wild adventures and seeing some of his photos, I knew it was the life for me. I met my owner soon after. She and I discussed it over non-fat vanilla lattes and felt a connection right away. It was obvious we were meant for great travels together.

Initially, I seriously considered becoming a pirate. After all, Flat Stanley was a little…flat. I’m made of sterner stuff. But I simply can’t pull it off with this hat.

Q: Your hat is quite remarkable. I like it.

Sven: It stands tall in the wind, yes, and the red makes me easier to find when I’m lounging in the bottom of a huge dark purse, but a pirate captain requires a skull and crossbones at the very least. I tried on a Native American ceremonial headdress in Taos once. But it wasn’t the same.

Q: When did you begin your travels?

Sven: It would’ve been 2008. I was young and cocky then and jumped at the first travel opportunity that came along, taking off with a stranger. Well, I was held hostage in Cambria for weeks until I made my way back home. Lesson learned! I’ve avoided hitch hiking ever since.

Q: I see. Have you traveled outside of California?

Sven: Yes. Here and there in America of course. Road trips through Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, skiing in Utah, and deer hunting in Texas. A flight to Virginia. A flight to Maui for snorkeling and whale watching. Southwest Airlines are fairly nice, by the way, and Alaska Air served mai tai’s on our flight to Hawaii, so they rank well in my book.

Q: Tell me a little about your road trips.

Sven: I used to have a bucket seat near the A/C but now I ride at the bow of the Black Pearl, as I call our car. My job is to watch for pirates…er…cops in the fast lane. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly. While I won’t ask for bathroom breaks, I very much insist that we stop for amazing sunset photo ops, where ever we happen to be at dusk. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” and all that.

Q: Any particular memory from a road trip?

Sven: Well, you really must stop at THE THING.


Sven: Oh yes! All there is for simply miles upon miles of cactus habitat in Arizona on your way to New Mexico is billboards. They all advertise for THE THING, which is the only THING for pretty much ever that you can stop and take a break at. Even I’m stiff after hours of driving, and the shocking secret they keep hidden there is so worth it.

Q: What is it?

Sven: (Chuckling) Oh no. You’re going to have to go there yourself and find out!

Q: Hm. I see. How about international travel then?

Sven: I have excellent photos from New Zealand! You really must go. Halfway around the world, I did some pretty awesome kayaking, hiking, and sightseeing of course, and I am thinking of doing Australia this summer. Outback and all, you know. Possibly don my formals and attend a wedding.

Q: You have a passport?

Sven: Of course. I keep it updated at all times, just in case.

Q: In your valise there?

Sven: Of course not. My valise is filled to the top with jellybeans. Mostly black ones. You should never go anywhere without snacks handy. (He shudders slightly) You never know what a native will hand you for dinner.

Never check your bags by the way. I pack light, and only have this carry-on. I had it tattooed with a plumeria during my stay in Maui. Special treat.

Q: Would you ever fly solo?

Sven: You mean by mail? Never! There are many places I want to go in this big beautiful world but I have no intention of asking the government to take me there. Have you seen the way FedEx throws…er…delivers packages?! Outrageous. Go with family. Always.

Q: I’d like to ask, before we finish, if you have any travelling “incidents” you’d like to share with our readers? Many times, travel does not turn out to be as smooth sailing as it was planned.

Sven: I’m so glad you asked. Sometimes it’s the “incidents” that were unplanned that become your travel book’s best memories! Yes, there was the time I went skydiving without a parachute, out a window while dining at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Lahaina. It may have been the mai tai in a pineapple that got to me. Luckily, I landed on my pointy hat in the sand. So it’s good for something after all.

I had some minor hand surgery the summer I went to Texas, connected to holding a fiery sparkler on the Fourth of July. Texans do love their pyrotechnics! At least they didn’t tie me to a rocket. I know that’s what they were thinking. I’ll be a pirate…but not an astronaut.

(Sven pauses for a moment.)

And then there was the time I underwent complete Humpty Dumpty emergency surgery.

Q: I’m afraid to ask.

Sven: You should be. I was “skipping” along the surface of a swimming pool. Unfortunately, the pool stopped, but I did not. Striking the concrete, I broke completely in half. I’ve only felt that kind of terror once before, while being chewed on by a recalcitrant raccoon. Now I have the scars that prove I’ve been places and done things, by jove, and what’s a little inconvenience when one is having grand adventures?! I’d like to see Flat Stanley top that one!

Q: Perhaps you, maybe, should not try to walk on water in future. It really is past time for us to go. I’d guess by looking around your lovely home that you could be just as content staying here as travelling abroad.

Sven: Yes, I work a little, church a little, once in a while attend an Aztec or Padre game. We play monopoly and I get to be the banker. I dabble in real estate on occasion. But in my heart, I’m just waiting for the next big trip.

Q: Thank you so much for sharing your travels today. We look forward to hearing about your next grand adventure, where ever the road may take you.