Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring Break: Tilden

I believe I could be truly happy in Provo if we could have Tilden Park. I just want the whole thing dug up and dropped in the foothills of the Wasatch Front, complete with migrating newts, fog, and little kids wearing Flapdoodle hats. Until that happens, we make it one of our first stops when we visit the grandparents. We were thrilled that it was open for spring break, so we went there on Monday.
As it was raining, there were not so many people at the train. We had dragged Joss along even though it was perilously close to naptime, but the Tilden steam trains are magic. He went from vague interest to jumping up and down and making "chubby chubby choo choo" sounds. He also picked up the word "tunnel" along with "beach", "hot dog", and "froggy".
Does he look ready for a nap?
The engineer was congenial as usual. He showed the kids the firebox, explained the steam engine, rang the bell and tooted the whistle for us. I know that there are other models of boys -- the dinosaur boy, truck boy, animal boy -- but we only make train boys. They respond to something about trains at a cellular level.
From there we went over to the carousel. This was being refurbished while we were here two years ago. The animals look the same, but they've got new windows and they've redone the floor and it reassures us old timers that it will be around for our grandkids. I think grandpa and his compadres should form a Tilden Park Carousel Tinkering Club and see if they can't get Blanche's baton working again. It was a great thing to try and watch as you were riding around and around.
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As a child, I was afraid to ride on the outside horses that went up and down; through the wood beams above I could see the machinery, and having seen Mary Poppins, I knew that carousel horses were in danger of falling off the merry-go-round and pogosticking away through the hills.

I'm glad the kids don't share my childhood frights.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter 2010: egg hunt

I love the kids hunting for eggs in their bathing suits.
They found all the eggs and some plastic ones with candy and quarters (since Sebastian is now collecting). The Easter Bunny treated them right, too.
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Easter 2010: Elkhorn Slough Safari

[click to enlarge] On Saturday morning, we rode on the Elkhorn Slough Safari on a pontoon boat. I was expecting a nice boat ride with some far off marine fauna. We got a whole lot more than that.

Captain Yohn and his assistant, Kelly, handed out clickers to each pair of seatmates and assigned each one a different animal to keep a total on. Before we were even out of the marina we saw a bevy of sea lions all performing synchronized swimming with their fins and tails out of the water (they taught us that animals do that to keep warm because it takes less energy in air than in water).
Then we turned into the slough and saw brown and white pelicans, snowy egrets, curlews and grebes. We saw clams squirt water three feet in the air! We learned the difference between harbor seals and sea lions (color, flippers and ears). And we saw sea otters galore. There were 18 in one raft of them. There were some mothers and pups (one was new to the captain and so it was probably less than 24 hours old). One old sea otter dude pretended he didn't see us and was only 5 feet from the boat. Amazing! In the final count, we saw 89 sea otters, 114 sea lions and 130 something harbor seals.
Joss was not happy about his lifejacket and not impressed enough by the animals to last an hour and a half. We plied him with cookies and breath mints and got through it. Will got desperately sick on the way out and was weeping in his seat he felt so bad. It was still worth it. We learned a lot. We got closer to these animals than we've ever been. Rob said he liked it as well as any ride at Disneyland. Now I'm not going to go that far, because I love me a good Space Mountain run, but it was fabulous!
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Easter 2010: plover

One of the other special things about this beach is the Snowy Plover. This is a teeny tiny shorebird which makes its nest in the sand. From afar it looks like it's wearing Devo glasses and taking itself very seriously skittering in and out of the surf -- it's comical to see it in action. They've been on a threatened list since 1993, and since 2001 there has been a plan in place to help them out. This means that sections of beach are cordoned off for their nests. No dogs or horses are allowed. We can't fly kites or build structures or fires down by the beach either. Any of these things might cause them to abandon their nests or have a wee avian heart attack. The good news is that there are more snowy plover now than there used to be. We were sullen when we first had to abide by these rules, but truth to tell, we're rather protective of them now.

Easter 2010: Pool

After you are frozen solid from the Pacific, you mince your way across the sand, boardwalk and pavement to the pool by the clubhouse. The pool is heated, but it is so windy and exposed there by the shore that it is still pretty cold. Once you have taken all you can at the pool, you make your way across the splintery walkway to the hot tub. You submerse yourself there until your skin has stopped stinging and then you realize that it is actually only about as hot as a bathtub. The kids then turn on jets and slide down the rail and splash each other until everyone is pink-cheeked and dehydrated, or until Joyce the Sea Hag shows up in her jewel-encrusted visor to hassle people about infractions of the rules. Then you walk back to the house in your frozen wet towel and raid the larder.
By the time the towels and bathing suits are dry, you're ready to start the whole cycle over again!
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Easter 2010: beach

It has been a tradition since at least the mid-70's that my parents' ward would go down to the beach during General Conference weekend (semi-annual church meetings which are broadcast on TV and mean that you don't have to be doing your lay clergy job; also known as "PJ Sunday" at our house). Rob had a conference to attend in Berkeley, and the kids were off for spring break, so we drove down to the Bay Area and piggybacked on the event. Yes, it was a heinous drive out and we shall say no more about it except that three of our four kids were fanTAStic. We took Rob straight to the conference and then dumped ourselves at Grandma and Grandpa's house.
This is the same place we come for family reunions and the same place that Rob tells bedtime stories about Kyle and Pablo, the two sixth graders in a dual immersion Spanish/English class at Castroville Elementary. So our kids know what they like to do here. They wanted to head for the beach immediately, but I, being the wise mother that I am and knowing their proclivities around water, made them suit up before we went out. I was not amiss.
This smile is frozen in place. It was about -10 degrees F out before the windchill and heaven only knows what the water was. It was raining that first time we went down, and the rain was considerably warmer than the seawater. I should have had them in wetsuits or whaleblubber, but they didn't seem to care. They ran around in the waves until they were numb. Will was even body surfing, getting completely immersed.
The first time we went to the beach, Joss wanted to do everything his siblings did. So I jumped with him in the waves and he ran in and out of the surf, trying to beat it and to be caught by it. He grabbed handfuls of sand and threw them at the water, which thing I don't understand, but his brothers did it before him. He looked like a crazed jawa in his little brown hood.
The next time he went to the beach (when it was considerably warmer), he decided he wasn't going to just follow the crowd like a lemming. He played in the sand and only braved the water when he could be certain of a quick exit with Papa.
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Sebastian is SIX!

I really cannot believe it, but Sebastian had his birthday last week. It seemed to me and Rob that he had always been five and that he was the perfect five-year-old. I don't know what to do with a six-year-old Sebi! He took treats to his kindergarten class and his dance class and had dinner and cake and ice cream with his friend Tomas and family. There were presents of the Star Wars and Lego variety and a bug circus and a folder for his collection of state quarters. He spent the evening running around and was happy.
Here are six things I love about Sebi:
1. his coloring: I love the dark hair, the long lashes, and the blue eyes. He's unique in our family for that particular combination
2. his sense of humor: when his uncle said that his hair looked like a living thing with a pelt up there on his head, he went right along with it. When we can't find something, Sebi says "maybe it's lost in the pelt!" He sometimes calls himself the Kingdom of Pelt.
3. his willingness to help: Sebastian has always been my little helper. He helps with the laundry; he helps me at the store; he helps with his brother; when I am sick he goes and brings me a glass of water.
4. he is reasonable: Sebastian is exceptional at taking things in stride. When plans change or something gets struck from the schedule that he was looking forward to, Sebi is the most understanding and willing to compromise, exchange or postpone.
5. he's got his own style: despite wearing hand-me-downs almost exclusively, Sebastian manages to look different from his brothers. Most recently he's asked to grow out his hair like his cousin and another friend. It suits him well!
6. he's a love. This one still likes to snuggle. Even at six!
We hope six is as good a year for you as five was!
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Pinewood Derby: Not a Fiasco

Rob was mentioning that my blog languished without new posts while he was away in Berlin. I reminded him that I was single parenting in Provo with a broken camera while he was going solo in Berlin with a digital SLR. I was expecting some posts from him! I don't have any pictures here, but we may go back and have him show you where he was and what he did with his time.

Which reminds me that I need to here express my gratitude for Skype. We talked to Rob most days, as long as we wanted, for free. Kids were able to show him homework and spelling tests and boo-boos. He watched Joss have a meltdown and I felt so much less alone having shared that with Rob across thousands of miles. One day he even supervised Will's violin practice on Skype. It really made a huge difference.
The only thing Skype couldn't help me out with was the pinewood derby. Rob had scheduled it for the day after he got back, and he'd left Will with a car that was shaped and painted, but had done no tinkering to improve the speed. Sebastian had a kit, but that was all.
So I did what single mothers everywhere do for their boys. I asked all the men I could find what to do. Thank you to Jeff, Matt, Curtis, Mark and others who gave me their best secrets. Then I did what I could do best: I went out and bought stuff. We got BSA official weights, an axle kit and wheel truing kit and some decals which I thought might go a long way toward covering up our lack of usable tools.
Will and I spent some quality time at the tailgate of the truck, smoothing the axles and wheels. Then he trotted off to a friend's house and I felt silly working on a pinewood car by myself in the driveway.
[click to enlarge] This shows the track, the trackmaster, the awards, the treats, the group of scouts huddling, and most important, this shows Will after the derby. His car wasn't a winner, but it did respectably, and he placed in several heats. He came in smack in the middle of the pack, which I told Rob is exactly what you would wish for the son of the cubmaster. Since last year his car didn't even finish most heats, this was a big improvement, but it also leaves plenty to work for next year.
This year we learned how to work on the axles and that it really does help to weigh your car. Next year we'll just buy the preformed cars and work on the alignment. I have no idea how one does this, only that it's essential.
I have to say here too, that our ward is fantastic about the pinewood derby. They are a rare combination -- everyone takes it seriously, but also charitably. The den mothers put up balloons, had pit passes, car-shaped treats, certificates and goodies for each boy. And there was also free-flowing graphite and help with weighing for all. This is the second year that the trackmaster has remarked on how well-behaved everyone was. I've never seen it any other way, but I don't want to.
This dear boy got only my help on the shaping of his car. Since there were no decent saws, this was done entirely with a belt sander. I was grateful for the decals to spiff it up.
Here Will sits with two cub colleagues: the one of the left got the award for best design with his pile of Geico cash. The one on the right had his grandfather helping him now that his father is gone, and he did really well. It was a great building year and we know even more for next time. By the time Joss is in scouts, we'll know what we're doing, but for now we are happy that it was a good experience for Will.
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