San Diego Cinderella

On our Italian tour last year, we took trains from La Spezia to Genoa to Milan to Venice, passing Verona on the way. This week for our anniversary, we followed our hearts back. Longing for piazzas, basilicas, and doumos, we decided to revel in the balconies and tombs of Verona and, consequently, the passion, the pageantry, the drama, and the death that is Romeo and Juliet.

I may have mentioned: Italy feels just like home.

I’ve never been to Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater. Like a star-crossed lover, I always passed by offering terms of endearment and wistful looks but never stopped to embrace it. It was easy to be seduced by Shakespeare. I painted my toenails in anticipation.

I wore the same dress – strictly for the memory – that I wore to the opera in Sorrento. Remember that night? So does my dress. But alas, the pink stilettos from that adventure are no more for this world. I wore the understudy for tonight’s trip to Verona.

Our first stop of the evening was a romantic restaurant on the harbor. I sipped sangria, nibbled chicken salad, and watched the pretty boats sail by on the late summer breeze. In case this was not enough to set the stage, a fat pale moon rose slowly over the San Diego skyline as the sun began its descent in the west. Our waitress presented creme brûlée, a delicately crisped, creamy concoction that curled my toes. A lot. More than average, apparently.

Hand in hand, Hubby and I sauntered from the restaurant, admiring the tiki torches, admiring each other.

“Clomp, clomp, flop,” went something on the sidewalk.

“Flip, flap, flop,” went the next three steps.

And then, without provocation, one of my shoes decided to throw a fit. “I bite my thumb in your general direction sir!” cried my right shoe.

And in the very next step, the entire bottom of my shoe flew off. Off. The valets and restaurant patrons might not have noticed, had I not burst into hysterical laughter. I had to decide: stop in the middle of the sidewalk and retrieve the errant brick or continue to the car walking like I was on a carousel ride.

I guess I did both. Safely tucked into the car, with no time to spare, we drove to the theater weighing our options. Now, I’ve heard rumors that some ladies keep spare shoes in their cars. They probably keep spare feet in their cars. I am not that lady. Neither do I keep crazy glue nor pliers in my glove compartment. Um, or gloves, now that I think about it.

“What should I do? Can I sneak in barefoot?”

The light turned red. A train went by. Another sigh for Italy escaped me, and we kept driving.

“There’s nowhere to park,” said Hubby, “It starts in ten minutes and we haven’t gotten tickets yet!”

I was bent over what was left of the shoes, still attached to my feet, “Go for it,” I grunted, “we’re doing this!”

Looking neither to the right nor to the left, heads high, we hustled from the parking lot to the ticket stand to the entry to some nice seats…and only then did I take a breath and look down.

These were the ugliest flats on the face of the earth. I traced my finger over one thin strap muttering in Italian. The bright moon rose overhead, lending its glow to the outdoor theater lights, illuminating the stage of Verona. The stage comprised of…a sandbox? I flipped through the program.

Apparently, this year’s director envisioned Shakespeare’s tragedy in sand.

All of the actors were costumed to their ankles, and…barefoot. The beautifully talented Juliet sang a rousing rendition of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. Teenagers brawled in the alleys. Adults marched around telling everyone what to do. Romeo slumped along with his guitar declaring that without his true love, life – hallelujah – wasn’t worth anything at all.

The main characters get married whilst still children.

Nobody really relaxes until they’re dead.

And nobody can figure out what all the fighting was about.

Like I said, Italy feels just like home.

As we gave them a standing round of applause, I recalled my wobbly circumstances. What was a pair of shoes measured against an amorous tryst under an enchanted moon? An embrace on the balconies of Europe with Prince Charming?

Prince C hazarded a quick look at my feet and grimaced as a very unromantic thought escaped.

This dazzling night was going to end where all good affairs end: a serious flirtation with a new pair of glass slippers.

Tiki

San Diego at the harbor

Spreckles organ pavilion

Museum of Art

Old Globe Theater

Romeo and Juliet

Sandbox?

Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

5K On the Bay

There’s a brand new piece of bling in my jewelry box and my earrings are trying to make friends, but the string of pearls won’t even make eye contact.

All silky ribbon and gilt-edged beauty, this little sparkler was coveted from afar, hard won, and brands me forever as a LEGEND.

Read it and weep…

“Just try it,” said my sister, “it’s fun!”

This is not the first time that I have been duped into doing an activity that was clearly designed to kill me, but cleverly disguised as a mentoring opportunity. It is, however, the first time I’ve been awarded a medal for it.

If you’ve never participated in a 5K, let me set the scene:

A 5K is a “small” run, usually connected to a “larger” run such as a half-marathon or 800 meter leopard chase. My sister, and many others, collects 5Ks like bubblegum wrappers. She is running one a month for a year and is halfway through her goal.

Every 5K has a “theme” with swag (party favors that include a water bottle, towel, T-shirt, and coupons for a free beard trim). Today’s run was themed “San Diego Legends” and it included major sports celebrity guests and Hank Bauer as MC.

You can run in costume to show your theme spirit, you can run with a team and wear matching comrade shirts, or you can show up in your finest athletic garb and rock those warm-up stretches like a pro. If your Olympic-level outfit makes you look like a giant asparagus, it will only be overlooked if you come in first place. Otherwise, film will be rolled.

And there are certain things that should never be photographed.

Like this.

I decided that bull-riding easily qualifies as a warm-up activity, especially if combined with free-style on the swings and followed with a couple of fast slides into the sandbox.

Once you’re warmed up, you squeeze into the cattle chute with everyone else and wait for the gunshot. You check your shoelaces and your bib and tighten your cap a little. People are hopping up and down. There is just enough time to wonder whether you are about to make a terrible mistake when the gun goes off.

A lady in front of us, startled, dropped her keys, and had one nanosecond to scrabble for them.

We found our place in the herd and I put my head down and focussed on following my sister’s jacket. This is why I didn’t notice the double-wide stroller trying to pass me at the corner. Whining from the vehicle alerted me to a fiercely driving dad as I jumped to safety.

“I don’t want to run a race!” cried a toddler, “I want to stop!”

We plugged along after them, not sure who to commiserate with.

5Ks are held in various locations but you are not supposed to know exactly where it will take you until you are actually running, because surprises make your adrenaline pump faster.

We came to Nimitz Bridge, up and over and back we went, circled the USS Recruit, and zigzagged between views of San Diego Bay and Liberty Station Park. We went around a fallen seven-year-old with skinned knees, a napping residence-challenged person, and a lizard on the sidewalk doing push-ups.

The last sprint to the finish line was epic. We had a record to beat, and my sis was going to PR by less than a minute if we fumbled. Gasping for air on the other side, we realized that the timer was set to the gun, not to our bibs.

In 37 minutes and 45 seconds, we became San Diego Legends.

Placing our bling reverently around our necks, we circled the camp to take in our Hero’s Welcome: apples, bananas, water, Gatorade, free Fair tickets, and Healthy Veggie Chocolate Cake samples.

We were the only major sports celebrities there, as the advertised guests had never arrived. They dropped from Legends to Myths.

We looked around for the asparagus but she had left the party.

Hopefully, she wasn’t in the chocolate cake.

Lone Stars in her eyes, my sister insists that we could become San Antonio Legends next month.

I know a trap when I hear one.

I wonder if I could squeeze a Texas-sized bling in my box?

To see us on real, live TV, click here. The asparagus is ahead of us, of course. Veggies are overachievers. We follow, 30 seconds into the video.

When Disneyland Becomes A Whole New World

Disneyland.

Spinning and spinning at Dizzyland…

I haven’t visited the Magic Kingdom in at least a dozen years, when I was surrounded with kids and baggage and baby wipes. When I spent the day slathering sunscreen onto wildly waving body limbs and handing out fruit gummies to dodge the imminent threat of spending five dollars for an ice cream cone that would not last the wait in line to the next ride that two out of five kids didn’t want to go on, which didn’t matter because the baby STILL wasn’t tall enough to ride, which meant I was going to stand this one out regardless…..

Hubby splurged that year and bought family passes. They got us in four times, but not on weekends or holidays or Spring Break or months ending in “y”.

And still, it was too much.

Last week, I used Park Hopper Passes – courtesy of my employer – to take my sister and I back to the Happiest Place on Earth.

As we both carry battle scars from previous visits, we kept the jumping up and down with glee to a bare minimum, and made a firm pinkie promise: this time was going to be different.

There would be no dashing madly, elbows flying, between rides.

There would be no baggage: no strollers, no totes, no jackets “in case it gets cold” or hats “in case it gets hot”, no cameras or video recorders, no toys for when we’re bored in line, no grocery-store-in-a-backpack if one of us starts screaming for a giant lollipop shaped like Mickey.

There would be no whining. If we wanted to spend twenty minutes in a shop staring at Mickey ears, we would. If we wanted the dang lolli, we were – understand this – going to buy it.

And eat it.

And not share even one lick with anyone else in the whole world.

There would absolutely positively be no waiting in line for a ride we didn’t want to ride. We would avoid Mr Toad’s Wild Ride and Tom Sawyer’s Island and why do they even keep Autopia? Toontown and the “tune” that lives next to it: definitely out.

(It’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it?)

This time, we would saunter into California Adventure and figure out what the hype was. Little did we know that just getting there proved to be as much of a California Adventure as I am willing to take on any given day. 

The LA freeways, true to form, were once again under construction and what map quest said and what the patched up freeway signs said were totally different things.

We ended up trapped in the HOV lanes, going lickety split past appalling traffic. We could not get out, and as each sign warned us that we needed a transponder (whatever that is) and to have at least three people in the car (say what?), we had several rounds of hysterics before finally escaping. It easily replaced the Radiator Springs Racers, which weren’t racing that day.

I’m fairly certain we’re going to jail.

We practiced our Thelma and Louise by going on – hands down – the scariest ride there: Soarin’ Around the World. There was nothing about the boring wait in line to indicate that we were about to wet ourselves. No screaming or thunderous roaring from inside.

You sit in a row and get lifted maybe ten feet off the floor. You are surrounded by an IMAX theater screen and an overhead panel that customizes what you are about to do: jump off a dozen cliffs around the world and hang glide over breathtaking beauty.

When you swoop down over a herd of African elephants, you can smell the earth and the trees and feel the wind in your hair. When you glide above the Taj Mahal, you can see every tile and smell fresh jasmine. When the whale breaches right in your face, you are spritzed by water.

When you climb up to the top of the Eiffel Tower and leap from it, you scream like a little girl and close your eyes and grip the handles and your sister thinks it’s hilarious, all of ten feet up.

Whatever. I need my feet on the floor.

In return, I made her ride the Disneyland Railroad all the way around the Park. She had never done that and it was my secret weapon back in the day. You can ride it as long as you want, and we ate Dole Pineapple Floats and cheered the old school dino animatronics.

Just go. Trust me.

We took the Jungle Cruise for old time’s sake and it occurred to me that I missed my calling as a tour guide comedienne. You can keep your Disney princesses; my fantasy is that you can be paid to tell goofy jokes all day.

When you can’t put your cellphone away for the night…

We lounged around New Orlean’s Square, visiting Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion twice. We were happy to be running away on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and even happier to hit light speed on Star Tours.

The fantasy came to a halt at Space Mountain. Someone had forgotten to turn on the light display inside, and the ride was entirely in the dark.

If I wanted to be in the dark and jerked around randomly and come out feeling confused and vaguely nauseous, I could’ve stayed home.

We wrapped the day up nicely with dinner in the Blue Bayou, a place harder to get into than an old pickle jar. We sat in the Louisiana twilight, watching boats drift by, and ate lamb and steak and fresh bread that made your eyes glow like fireflies with delight.

We spoke of treasures and teacups, castles and carrousels.

It was a whole new world, going to Disneyland without the fam.

A smaller world, perhaps, but one glittery with pixie dust.

Tea at the Blue Bayou…so so so nice.

The Rain of Caesar

All hail to the chief.

It’s been three weeks of rainy day recess and teachers are sneaking shots into their coffee mugs.

The only creatures happy at this point are ducks and the Great Earthworm Migration coming through my kitchen, which is the only dry spot for miles.

Our cul de sac has it’s own riptide.

The last time our pool overflowed was New Year’s Eve, 2014, when I inadvertently left a hose running in the spa and then left for an all-night party. I woke up in 2015, the proud owner of an infinity pool complete with optional slide and waterfall feature into the back yard.

People pay a lot of money for this stuff.

If I had the option of curling up in a warm, cozy recliner and watching raindrops caress the windowpanes, I might enjoy the spa experience.

But I have to drive to work in the dark, in the deluge, with maniacs who think they are driving speedboats. My car wobbles in the wake of semi-trucks, my wipers frantically flapping in my face and all I can see are blotchy red dots and two freeway divots from the car in front of me.

Just as I’m deciding between drafting with the lead car or dropping back to a safe speed, we drive out from under the hellion cloud, and here are my wipers, just obliterating the last lone drop.

And the minute I turn them off, it starts sprinkling again.

I’m exhausted and it’s only a ten minute commute.

Once you get parked, there’s the dash into the building.

It’s the moment of truth: which do you value more, your handbag or your hairdo?

Because you can’t keep both.

Because you live in San Diego and IT NEVER RAINS HERE. You don’t have an umbrella. Well, you might, but it’s buried in the garage somewhere with your fishing poles.

This is where you find out if your girlfriend paid bank for that fancy leather bag or if she bought a knock-off.  I’ll be the one covering my head with a reusable grocery sack if necessary – curly hair does not do humidity.

Stitch melts in the rain, the Wicked Witch of the West melts in the rain, but my hair stands up and flips it off.

Even flat-ironed, my hair can predict the weather, and frankly, the next time we stay in a motel I’m swiping the little plastic shower-cap that’s been sitting on the sink-top since 1972. It fits into a purse nicely and why I didn’t think of this before, I have no idea.

Oh wait. Yes I do.

BECAUSE IT DOESN’T RAIN IN SAN DIEGO.

All day, we took calls from hysterical concerned citizens about sinkholes opening, trees tumbling, floodwaters rising, and the sky falling. We had mudslides. Not the Kahlua kind.

Someone reported a leaking fire hydrant (how? how can they tell?), but we think maybe it can wait until any possible chance of a fire occurs. (That would be the Ides of Autumn, when all these nicely watered weeds dry out.)

My sister, who loves rain and the dark, who is probably a vampire, has a cute little sign in her house that reads:

“Life isn’t about Waiting for the Storm to Pass,

it’s About Learning to Dance in the Rain”

No.

Skipping the freeway, I drove the side roads home, dodging potholes, cowering under swaying eucalyptus, fording rivers, and watching for tornadoes.

Tell me when the tyranny ends.

I’ll be hiding under the bed in my shower-cap with a pot of tea.

Taking a Breath

Once a year I hop in the car and drive away for a weekend with my girlfriends in Palm Springs.

It’s becoming a tradition that I could really get behind. It satisfies those pesky feelings that come around once in a while that whisper, “RUN. Run now. They won’t catch you. Someone else can do the dishes.”

It’s nice to turn to them and answer, “Yes, of course. It’s just that I’m so busy right now. I’ll tell you what…next May we’ll run away to a place where we will never do dishes, clean, cook, or run laundry. Ever. OK?” And then I get on with my day.

I get mixed reactions to my weekend away from the family. Hubby supports it, inasmuch as he is thinking to himself, “Self,” he thinks, “this is the weekend where I won’t do dishes, clean, cook, or run laundry! Awesome.”

The daughters are thinking, “Mom is so lucky! Why can’t I go too? I’m a girl! Please, please, please don’t leave us with three males of the species!”

The sons are thinking, “Dad’s gonna be in charge. That means hotdogs and pizza for dinner and random adventures that we will always be running late for. Awesome!”

All I am thinking on the day before I leave is, “The laundry is completely caught up, the kitchen is clean and a pre-made dinner is in the freezer. I’ve signed all the school papers and left reminders on the calendar for the weekend for everybody. I’m packed, there’s gas in the car, directions on the GPS, and every cell phone here has my number in it.”

Not that they need it.

Mine is the only one that all of them have memorized.

Never would I have attempted this in the younger years. You don’t leave diapers to chance. The kids are all old enough to forage for food in the kitchen if abandoned to their fate. No one will accidentally leave a stove burner on. At least not for long. The strange smell in the house should alert people.

Right?

This is the part where I force myself to take a mental detour into a happy place and sit there on time out for a reality check: the house will not burn down, a child will not lose a body part, no one is getting sick; everyone will be safe, fed, and happy until Mom comes home.

It’s only two days.

Palm Springs is lovely in May. Warm poolside weather, funny movies on the telly, books and magazines, maid service and restaurant meals. Sleeping in as long as you want is a treat so rare, only a mom could fully appreciate it. It’s what we do after a night of sitting in the spa, drinking margaritas, star gazing and talking the night away.

A decadent game we play once in a while is “doing nothing”: you settle down in a comfy chair with a wonderful view, and…do absolutely nothing. Except smile.

It makes us uneasy after five minutes or so, but it’s fun practice.

Our drive home includes side trips to massive shopping malls. Hunting down a good bargain gets our head back in the game, so to speak.

As soon as I pulled up to my house, the instincts kicked into full alert.

One does not simply “ease” back into reality from a vacation, however brief.

The garage door was open but no one was around.

Hm.

I walked into the house, rolling my red carry-on behind me.

I came full stop in the middle of what used to be my living room.

Couches and tables were pushed along the walls, cushions piled up in drifts. Heaps of clothing here and there suggested closets had been sick at some point. There were Legos in the potted plants. Empty cups, half empty soda bottles, plates of crumbs and a trail of skittles led to a kitchen of greasy countertops and a truly exciting refrigerator full of leftovers. Empty pizza boxes stacked in a corner. Candy spilled out of opened bags like little lava flows.

The bodies of my family were draped over furniture, trapped in suspended animation. Only their eyes moved as they followed my speechless tour around the house.

I stopped in front of the Hubby. He smiled faintly.

“Why hello!” he said, clearing his throat, “I didn’t know you were coming home so early.”

My daughter called out softly from her place on the floor, “We had so many people over here!”

“We went swimming and shopping and watched movies all night!” bragged a son from behind a couch.

“Um,” was what I managed to say.

“We’ve already been cleaning for a couple of hours,” said Hubby, sensing the direction of my thoughts, “it looks pretty good now.”

After unpacking, I rolled up my sleeves and stepped back into the fast moving rhythm of making a house a home. I knew the steps by heart.

It’s always good to be back.

And Palm Springs will be waiting for me the next time I need a breath of fresh air.

Once in a while, moms need a breath of fresh air.

I (Almost) Left My Heart in San Fran

Yes, this is a repeat…

As a mom of five children born over ten years, I know the feeling of being surrounded at all times with a busy brood of toddlers.  When you’ve got the house battened down, the gates up, the doors double-latched and the baby-proof outlet covers in place, you can be lulled into a sense of temporary security.  You may or may not be able to take your eyes off them for a moment to use the toilet.  Maybe some will have to come with you.

Maybe you’d better leave the door wide open, just in case.

Knowing my distractible forgetful self, I spent every move of our day doing headcounts.  The numbers may have changed over the years, but the routine stayed faithful.  If we went from playing outside to coming in for bath time, we counted heads.  If we are going to the park, line up for headcounts.  As a matter of fact, line up your shoes, hats, and water bottles for a count.  We moved in a herd, and if one kid needed something, we all just lined up and got tended together.  Call me obsessive if you must, but we never lost a kid.

Until him.

When I tell you that if he had been my first, he would also have been my last, I tell you the truth.

If I had not already had four children, enough to know exactly what I was doing, my dear fifth-born would have broken me.  The poor child had inherited my ADD from birth.  While other children nursed calmly, he could not stay focused more than five minutes or so before wondering if he were missing something.  Of course, surrounded by siblings, he was missing things, but a newborn should not be thinking about that quite yet.

I’m explaining up front so that my guilt level doesn’t rise as I confess my story.

This was my only child to break an arm, lose teeth in a living room rumpus, get a concussion, and, heaven help me, get lost on major family adventures, all before the age of five. He is the most curious, enthusiastic, happy, people loving, gregarious boy you will ever meet.  And when the world is your oyster, you are never lost.  Perhaps your parents are lost, but you most certainly are not.

I spent a lot of my time during our trip to San Francisco head counting.  I did not go so far as to dress everyone in matching neon yellow shirts, although looking back I guess it wouldn’t have hurt anything but our dignity.  The kids rode the trolley cars and toured the city, playing in parks and enjoying the views.  Pier 21 was bustling and a big lure was the sea lions congregating in the water along the edge.  We are animal lovers and many photos were taken.

It wasn’t until all the way around to the other side that my headcount came up short.  You can guess who was AWOL.  Truly when people are massed and moving, your family suddenly looks like everyone else’s family.  We regrouped and spread out to find him.

Those ten minutes were an eternity.  I stayed put like every mom says to a lost child, so that you can be found.  There was always the chance he would find me.  There was also the real possibility my legs couldn’t move as they turned into jelly with terror.

I’m not sure I was breathing.

Dad found him back on the other side of the pier. Our little boy was enjoying an ice cream with a policeman and had not a care in the world.  Apparently he stayed behind to watch the sea lions and then wandered along enjoying himself.  He was the only calm person involved in the story and I have to say we rather hovered over him for days afterwards.

Yes, there are mothers who tether their children and I was happy when the kids could be belted into a stroller.  If only the older four had not lulled me into thinking we had no need of such things.  Even holding mom’s hand was considered sissy stuff, so the head counting was my way of invisible tethering, of ticking off the fingers, of collecting all of my precious children in one hand.

I have since discovered ways of making sure the kids, now older, will watch for me, peering over the crowd to find the mom who has something they desperately want….ice cream.  For the older ones, cash works.

They can just count my head, an easy number of one, as their precious thing to track.

Touring Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Hubby and I enjoy hiking in the great outdoors, provided there are bathrooms and snacks, and as you are aware of my self-discipline methods, you know it’s not about my physique so much as it’s about fun.

Last weekend, the Hubbs and I thought it would be fun to do an early morning beach hike, so off we went to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Grab your sunglasses and enjoy the gorgeous views with us.

When you walk up to it, you can see that the Torrey Pines loop goes up one side and down the other side of a large sandstone bluff. The loop is technically more of a tipped oval with some squiggles at the bottom and a couple of ampersands curling off the top, so you can decide up front what kind of hike you want.

Whether you go clockwise or not depends entirely on whether you brought small whiny children.

If you did, begin by walking up the paved road on your left. Get the uphill out of the way immediately, while you still have your strength. Bribe them up the hill with a trail of gummy bears. Once you make the top they will be too tired to run off cliffs but not too tired to make it downstairs to the beach on the other side.

The rest of us begin with a long, luxurious walk on the beach, sauntering south along the cliff base and dodging waves and romantically holding hands until it dawns on you that you forgot your snacks in the car and wait, is the tide is coming in? And how far down there is the staircase anyway and whoops you just got a shoe soaked and maybe you’d better hustle up because what if there’s an earthquake right here under this crumbling catacomb and then a tidal wave hits?

Already, your hike is exhilarating.

You know you’ve reached the stairway to heaven when you face Bird Rock, which is occasionally covered in birds. Unless the tide is incoming and they sense danger.

Go 300 feet briskly uphill, attempting to join the birds.

The view gets very distracting after ten minutes.

You can walk out onto different loops over the bluffs and take in La Jolla to the south, Del Mar to the north, and surfers directly below.

Against the sapphire backdrop, rose, gold, cinnamon and ginger sandstone ribbons host yucca, cactus, beach grasses. California coastal sage scrub tries to hold the sand together, but it feels like only a matter of time before the Pacific will rub it down. Everything is polished by the salty kisses of wind and sea, even the famous Torrey pine trees that crown the bluff with twisting trunks and fanning fingers.

Traveling up and over the ridge, you pass tourists speaking in Japanese, families whose kids are hopping one. slow. step. at. a. time. along the twisting pathway, collegiate first dates discussing Disney cruises and church youth planning trips to Tanzania. Three girls in flowing hair and yoga pants pose for selfies on the summit.

You stand in the middle, Kara, you’re so cut!”

My eyes roll hard to leeward as I stride past muttering, “Good luck in therapy, Barbie.”

Coming down the backside of the Reserve on the paved road, I get the feeling we’ve done the loop backwards. Everyone is coming towards us and they all have gummy bears.

But we are not here to play casual Sunday driver, no. We are here for buns of brass. Stairmasters of steel. Quads of…um…quality. Yeah!

Are we there yet?

After hiking the Torrey Pines loop, we still had another mile or so to walk to our parking spot: back along N. Torrey Pines Rd, between the Pacific and Los Penasquitos Lagoon, under the bridge, through the North Beach parking lot, and back down Carmel Valley Rd, where we paused in front of Roberto’s and looking deeply into each others’ eyes, had the same thought.

Burritos for breakfast. Now.

Let’s all take a knee for a moment and recognize the authentic burrito for what it is: revival. I had a massive bean and cheese wrapped in a freshly made tortilla, warm and slightly crisped, salty queso melting into plump juicy pintos. How you can make beans into art is beyond me.

I ate it much too fast to show you a picture of it.

Kara and Barbie need to get their priorities straight.

Fair-n-Height

It’s not that I’m opposed to onion rings, I just object to spending over ten dollars for five of them. Six, if the little one counts, which it does not.

Who does that?

The fam took it’s yearly pilgrimage to the county fair this week and I want to start by saying that I had a firm grip on reality this time.

This is how the fair looks in my fantasy world:

 

And this is how the fair really looks:

help

Screaming, while they shake money out of your pockets.

The fair is not my favorite.

I make everyone begin at the barns because, chickens.

All about the attitude, baby.

All about the attitude, baby.

We said hello to Scooby Doo and Scrappy.

We said hello to Scooby Doo and Scrappy.

Mooove over, honey, I need a nap already.

Mooove over honey, I need a nap already.

My favorite flavor of fair.

The kids ran off (there are perks to them getting old enough after all) as Hubby and I wandered through endless displays of What We Need to Buy Immediately.

We needed massage chairs and wooden plaques carved with our family crest and oysters holding pearls and grooming brushes for dogs we don’t have and new cooking pans and a Vitamix blender which we do have and fancy humidifiers and elk jerky and Russian nesting dolls and a jacuzzi and glass bead jewelry and a rubber ball that splats flat on the ground and magically reforms into a sphere while you watch and it’s only four dollars and we should buy one for everybody because that’s pretty cool.

But we didn’t.

Because we had a plan.

The kids rejoined us when they saw us stride towards the edibles, which took some doing considering the sheer volume of humanity standing in lines, shrouded in thick smoke from the turkey leg tent.

Healthy food…at the fair? I don’t think so. I can eat corn at home.

Fair thee well, figure.

The onion rings were first, because this is California and not Louisiana and we deep fry our veggies, not our amphibians.

As mentioned, they were over ten bucks.

We each got one.

We proceeded to buy the foot-long-hot-dog-on-a-stick which measured from your elbow to your wrist, with the stick reaching beyond your fingertips. Everybody cut off a portion and tried the recipe, sauces on the side.

Next up was a half pineapple, hollowed out and filled with rice, pineapple chunks and teriyaki chicken. It was gone in a five minute furious fork fight.

Cinnamon roll smothered in cream cheese frosting was an obvious choice and then we broke down and got the deep fried cookie dough because we are only human.

The chocolate drizzles tipped us over the edge.

We staggered around in the fine arts building until the pain dissipated.

You’re wondering by now…what about the carnival? The million-lightbulbs-on-a-stick machine that screams, “Throw your money away here! Win a giraffe the size of your mama! Climb into a rickety contraption held together by paper clips and run by a teenager who hasn’t slept in days because this party never ends, even after the fair shuts down!”

Not gonna happen. If I want to risk my life by launching into space in a ball slung from a giant rubber band, I won’t be doing it after eating what we’d just consumed.

This is the Fair in 4D.

messy

jump2

lit2

Somewhere between the hypnotist, the rock band, and the tilt-a-whirl I ran out of steam.

I started looking up and away from the frantic reality and there was my fantasy, waiting patiently for me.

heaven2

carousel

candy

And my fam couldn’t pull me away from the scream zone until my priceless souvenirs were tucked away safely in my memory.

Summer Son #2

Eureka, California, July 2011.

Our two hitch-hikers rolled into town, still following – more or less – the historic and breath-taking 101 freeway north.

North of San Francisco, the landscape pulls you along as the mountain ranges of our pacific northwest creep ever closer to the ocean. You have a foretaste of glories to come in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park that ushers you into Eureka.

The coastline now is nothing like the tame, surfing, comfortable beaches of San Diego. They go wild and wonton, foggy and foamy. Waves batter into cliffs and carve out coves and fling polished driftwood and stones onto the sand.

The boys began investigating this city, having no preconceived ideas other than wondering what the next part of the day might bring.

What with one thing and another, they found themselves on the outskirts of town, preparing to make their next move north.

Under a large tree in a clearing, they saw an athletic young lady. She had her effects and stood next to a bicycle that meant business.

Curious, they approached the dirty blonde to see what her story was.

It turned out that she had been part of a biking tour that had just left without her. They had been heading north on a summer expedition and as she had completely underestimated her own stamina, she had left the group just that day and was reevaluating her options.

My son remembers staring at giant wild blackberry bushes while she told her story. He was thinking, “Wow, we don’t have anything like that at home.”

They shared their own information, and once they realized they all shared a common destination – north – decided to try something radical: hitch hike together, three people, three packs, a guitar, and a bike.

Now really.

Who’s going to stop for that circus?

“Why not?” they said, “Let’s give it a try.”

“Well,” she replied, “I don’t mind joining the party. I have to get home eventually.”

She looked at her bike.

“This could be tricky.”

Stopping for these wanderers in the little red rental car was a decidedly optimistic maneuver.

And at the wheel, grinning ear to ear, was Ronan O’Sullivan, his very self.

Sturdy he was, with the clean-shaven baby face of an angel, though he was thirty years old if he was a day. When the travelers peered into his car and met his blue eyes, twinkling like all of Father Christmas below his ginger hair, there was a collective and spontaneous YES.

“What’s all this?” cried Ronan in the thickest accent an Irishman could have and still be intelligible, “Who are you and where are you going?”

But the kids were busy trying to figure out how to fit into the car.

“We don’t know where we’re going,” they replied, “just north to explore!”

Mr. O’Sullivan could not believe his luck.

That was his exact agenda.

Mr. O’Sullivan was on holiday.

He had flown into America, rented a car, and with no idea where to begin, his goal was to experience and explore as much as he could before his time was up.

“Why, that’s just the thing!” he said, as they piled in, “Americans do this? Stand by the road and travel like this? Do you know where we should stay? Can you tell me what’s good to eat over here?”

His questions went on and on as they began the long and winding road up the coastline. He was so happy to have his own personal, thoroughly American tour guides, that the four of them travelled together for a solid week.

The kids thought his accent was wildly and wonderfully entertaining. Just listening to him talk was captivating.

Every turn in the road brought an exclamation of wonder from their generous driver. He stopped constantly to investigate a beach cove, massive canyon, torrid river, or massive trees.

Every couple of miles seemed to increase his happiness.

He cracked jokes, he told them about his home back in Ireland.

“San Diego, you said?” came his predictable question, “So how far from your house is Hollywood?”

My son has done a bit of traveling and without fail, people take one look at his blond surfer cliche self and ask about Hollywood. It seems to be the benchmark for all of Southern California.

Maybe all of California.

People from Ireland don’t know about Mt Shasta, but they’ve heard of Hollywood.

He stopped to explore a lot of bars, and my son is quick to point out that cliches are also foolish going the other direction. The bars were for nursing a pint of local brew while applying his same thorough investigation to the local people. That’s what pubs are for.

Ronan wasn’t there to party.

Ronan was there to assimilate and enjoy every atom of the culture and atmosphere.

Which meant that everywhere Ronan went, he brought the party with him, through pure happiness to be there.

The kids weren’t old enough to join him in the bars; although they were carded for alcohol, pot was beginning to be as circulated as loose change.

Perhaps Ronan would bring them back a bottle or two when he joined them later in the evening around the pool of a cheap hotel, but he was never interested in the rest. He stayed as clean cut as the landscape that was calling them.

They stopped in Klamath and ate at Paul Bunyun’s Diner. They made it to Crescent City.

From there, they detoured northeast, driving through Grant’s Pass and up into the forested gorges and coves to Crater Lake National Park.

This is a place that remains in my son’s artistic memory as one of prehistoric and pristine beauty.

“It’s the weirdest kind of beautiful,” he said, “The massive lake sits in a giant bowl and messes with your depth perception. The water is a deep turquoise, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I remember massive trees. And massive ants,” he says with a frown, “and for some reason, I remember snow on the ground in places when we were hiking there. But that can’t be right. It was July.”

That, my son, is because you can still find snow there, even in July. Crater Lake is mostly pure snowmelt. Your memory is better than mine, well done.

Like the volcano that collapsed and left Crater Lake, their adventures eventually came to a close with Mr O’Sullivan, leaving a crisp memory, many shades of blue.

They all stayed in touch after that summer, through Facebook.

Ronan flew back to Ireland and has a wife and kids now.

The young biker lives in Portland, and the boys visited when they eventually arrived there.

Her bike had a great many miles put on it, but not because she had pedaled all the way home.

Sometimes on their road-trip, half the bike sat in the back, and half the bike sat in their laps.

But sometimes, they held it, arms out the side window, rolling along parallel with the rental car.

 

Everything Is Awesome!

Out of all of the amusement parks available to Southern Californians, Legoland is my favorite, hands down.

Or hands on, as it were.

We hadn’t been in years, but our spring break company included a five-year-old legomaniac, and when everything is awesome, you gather the master builders and go.

It was nostalgic and new and delightfully nerdy to watch my massive boys take their little cousin and introduce him to the way of the Lego.

We rode the rides and shot the laser guns and climbed the fortress and drove the boats. We ate the barbecue and got a drivers’ license and pulled to the top of the towers of power.

But more than anything, we explored what the imagination can do with a little piece of plastic.

Miniland is getting an upgrade, and there was an entire section devoted to Star Wars.

Be still my heart.

Photos. Enjoy.

Earth

Endor

Naboo

More Naboo

Death Star

Tatooine

If you know my house at all, you know we have a closet filled top to bottom with Lego bits. I’ve given boxes of them away once in a while, but somehow the closet is never diminished.

Now we know why.

My boys spent a significant amount of time and money shopping for the perfect little pieces that they can’t get anywhere else.

How they know which tiny bits they don’t have, is beyond me.

The boys found out about a new trick up Legoland’s sleeve: if you bring along a mini figure, you can ask any park employee to trade with you. They have three or four mini figures attached to their name tags, and if you have a good eye, you can spot highly collectible ones, just hanging out there at the turnstile.

The boys went nuts.

Four trades in, they had what was apparently the world’s coolest mini figure. Who knew.

We passed the visitor information booth.

An employee inside had an entire Star Wars battleship on his name tag.

The kids went in for the kill but came up empty.

Come to find out, the battleship was the actual name tag. Rats.

I walked around wondering if the employees would trade socks with me if I demanded it.

Or maybe wallets.

Goodness knows mine was wearing thin.

We posed with Batman. We posed with Lord Vader. The giant Bionicles weren’t as giant. Our last photo shows my kid posing at its kneecap. But this week, my ‘kid’ was up to its shoulders.

The legendary Fireman Show was gone for good, and we tried to convince our little cousin that putting “the wet stuff on the hot stuff” was a solid piece of Legoland information, but he was too busy attacking suspicious looking tourists with his foam sword.

Somebody’s gotta keep the place safe.

Finding Scooby Doo Lego was the frosting on our plastic cake. I’m happy to report that Daphne’s curves are finally in the proper shape, and Fred is still a square.

Scooby is going home to Canada later this week, to meet another little puppy named Stella.

Their job is to save the world from snowbound extraordinary people.

For at least the month of April.

“I am your father!”