Monday, July 31, 2006

Then and now - Limantour Beach

This weekend was busy. Saturday, we hiked to the top of Ring Mountain with Sam. Sunday, Cam said, "Let's go to the beach." So we got dressed and headed out. He was driving and had done research and decided where he wanted to go. I wasn't particular about our destination and was happy he had done the planning. When he explained he was planning to go to the beach at Limantour Road, I reminded him that that was the beach where Sam and I saw a whale when we were in CA in April of 2001. I've really enjoyed revisiting places we'd been then and reliving those memories.
This morning, I pulled out the photo album and scanned some photos of that last trip to share along with the photos of our most-recent one. In '01, we took a photo at the top of the dune on the trail leading to the beach. Yesterday, Cam took another one.

Sam admiring the view.

While even then, he liked running towards the waves then running away from them.

His level of interaction with the water has heightened dramatically. (See the video on Cam's blog.) He looks so sophisticated in this current picture.

He loved playing on the sand dunes last time.

And this time.

Our family picture then.

And now. We're so thankful to have Cam in our lives.

(He has a nice entry about this trip on his blog (with more pictures.))

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sam's home

The first night the three of us spent together in our home, we shared dinner together on the patio. Cam and I had turkey burgers with grilled onions, mushrooms and A-1. Sam opted for a ham sandwich. Shortly after dinner, I crashed. The next day, since Sam and I had been on a big adventure, rather than doing something big, we were planning to lay low. Cam wanted to show Sam some of the cool playgrounds in our area we'd seen while he was gone. However, California was in the middle of a huge heat wave. After being in SC, I had been looking forward to coming home to moderate temps but the high that first day home was supposed to be in the 90s.

We went to the closest playground where even at 9:30 am, I was already whining about being hot. The only shade was around the tire swing. I sat. Sam and Cam made good use of the available space. We decided to go to another playground which had lots of equipment we thought Sam would like. He did enjoy it. I enjoyed laying in the shade.

The week started slowly but momentum has been building. Cam went to work and I spent time looking for work nearly everyday. Sam and I also found time to read together. We are enjoying a book called, Lionboy, now.

Wednesday, we met Cam in nearby Mill Valley for dinner and a quick trip to say hello and goodnight to the ocean. He wrote a nice blog entry about that night. Check it out (if you haven't already).

Thursday, Sam and I decided to take a break from job hunting and went on a hike sponsored by the Sierra Club. Besides us, there was only one other person on the hike under 40. At first, I wasn't sure how much we would have in common with the people we saw sitting on the bench at the designated meeting area. I almost convinced Sam to just skip it and do a hike on our own but he encouraged me to be social and I am glad we did. We met some wonderful people.

Richard, our guide is a very interesting chap. He came to California from England 40 years ago. I also talked with Mary from Ireland, Crystal from Germany, Nora who is training to be a nurse, a math professor from Tulane who was displaced from New Orleans by the hurricane, Holly who hadn't been on a hike in years, etc. We hiked along the side of Muir Woods to the back of it and then into it and out the front. The weather was glorious and the walk was exhilarating.

Sam was the life of the party. He said he enjoyed listening to people talk. He ran ahead acting as our scout and went back to check on people who had fallen behind. People kept commenting that he is a wonderful person and remarkable child. I couldn't agree more. We hope to go on more of these hikes. Sam wrote an entry about the hike on his blog. If you read it, leave a comment. He was saying that maybe he shouldn't have a blog because he didn't have any comments on his (granted he only had an opening page). I know he hasn't written much yet but I'd like to encourage him. Blogging seems like a good way to work on his writing skills while getting him to share adventures with family and friends. His web address is

Yesterday, Cam took us for a hike on our neighbor, Ring Mountain. He wrote about it already on his blog. Please read his entry. It is lovely. Last night, as I was tucking him in, Sam said it was the first time he'd climbed a mountain and that maybe he should write about it in his blog. I hope he will. Stay tuned.

The hardest part

Traveling nearly 3,000 miles twice in one week was my least favorite part of attending the family reunion. Trying to be frugal, I'd chosen to fly Southwest leaving out of San Jose (over an hour from home). Cam packed a lunch for me, carried my bags to the car and drove me to the airport. He reminded me to pack music (headphones give me a invisible personal space barrier which I appreciate greatly when in an airport or on a crowded plane) and drove me to the airport. As one who worked previously in advertising, I noticed and appreciated a cooridor of the airport sponsored by Microsoft where they assured me the saw me doing great things.

I also liked the tagline of this CARE ad.

My flight was scheduled to arrive in Raleigh, North Carolina (over four hours from the reunion site) after 11pm. With the money I saved, not flying directly from San Francisco to Myrtle Beach, I was able to justify having a rental car for the week. Usually, having a rental car at these things is imparative. This time, since we were within walking distance of the beach, it might not have been. I know after flying all day to get to North Carolina, the idea of driving four more hours at night on unfamiliar roads through road construction in an unfamiliar car whose warning lights were telling me to check the tire monitor system, the money I saved didn't seem worth it. When I booked my flight there, I knew I didn't have to change planes, in my mind, I had a non-stop flight. Turns out, I had three stops. After taking off and landing in San Jose, LA, Chicago (who knew?) and finally Raleigh, my ears HURT. They didn't feel right for days.

Anyway, on the way back, Sam was with me. The drive to Raleigh from Myrtle Beach was much less painless in the daytime in a car I'd become familiar driving. I'd also studied the map and decided that while it might be a few more miles, taking a simpler route to the airport was worthwhile (two highways rather than turn onto Roosevelt St. in rural SC).

My wonderful brother had carried our luggage to the car for me. When we arrived at curbside check-in, I learned that while bags under 50 pounds are free, any bag weighing more than 50 lbs would cost $25 to check. My bag made it through without problems but after lifting it, they put Sam's bag on the scale. After being on the road for five weeks, he'd accumulated lots of treasures. Luckily, it weighed in at 47 lbs.

I started to return the rental car without remembing to refuel. I appreciate the attendant at Alamo noticing and giving me the opportunity to go fill the car up myself rather than paying whatever they are charging these days. We even had time to grab some non-airport food for lunch before passing through security and getting to our gate. It was a relief to be ready to board. Then, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, everyone was lined up to board. At this point, I noticed our boarding passes put us in category C (the last category to board). Their announcement says people traveling with kids under five can board early but Sam turned 9 on this trip. We were nearly the last ones to get into the C line. Because SW doesn't assign seats, It was looking like we were going to have to beg someone to move just to be able to sit together.

Thankfully, a SW agent noticed us at the back of this line and allowed us to board at the end of the A group. We had two lovely seats together and Sam had a window. This time, our flight didn't stop until Las Vegas. We finished a book we were reading, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, we like all of Kate DiCamillo's books and enjoyed this one too. (John started reading The Mouse & The Motorcycle to Sam in SC.)

After we finished reading, Sam played Hobbit, the new gameboy game his Grandma Bucklin bought for him in Iowa. I was going to start my new book, Couldn't Keep it to Myself by Wally Lamb, but instead, ended up talking with the woman sitting next to me.

While we talked, I flipped through Spirit, SW's in-flight magazine. I was pleasantly surprised to read interesting articles. One featured one of our favorite discoveries of the past year, Pandora. If you haven't checked out the Music Genome Projects site yet, give yourself a treat and visit Type in the name of a song or artist you are in the mood for listening to and Pandora will creat a station full of songs that are musically similar. You let Pandora know if you like or don't like the songs they play for you and they will adjust their offerings accordingly.

But back to the flight. On each of the SW flights, our agents added comedy to their announcements. On this flight to Vegas, the crew initiated several in-flight games. We had a contest to see who had the oldest penny. They had us guess the flight crew's cumulative age. The winner won a free cocktail/other treat. Finally, they encouraged us to write our seat number on a one dollar bill (isn't that illegal? anyway...) then throw the dollar into a bag. After everyone who wanted to play was in, they drew out one bill and the person in that seat was given all of the bills. I didn't have a one so I didn't play but I guess on the way to Vegas it was a fun way to break up the monotony and a nice perk for the winners. In their magazine, I read about the SW Spirit which makes me think this type of "spontaneous" fun is likely encouraged if not directed by corporate.

I think their ad agency is GSD&M in Austin. When I was trying to decide where to go from Des Moines, I wanted to go somewhere cool where I had family or friends. Because my cousin Alan, his wife Lynn and their daughter Alyson live in Austin and because of my interest in music, Austin was one of the cities I considered. I did land an interview with GSD&M while I was attending South-by-Southwest, a music conference but they didn't offer me a job so rather than Austin, Chicago was our next step and the rest is history. But GSD&M is cool. I like the idea of what they are trying to do with Southwest but I don't like having to stand in line vying for a seat of driving hours out of my way and having numerous stops during my flight. Regardless, they got us home which is the important part.


Very near the beginning of our trip, a group of relatives were heading to a place called MagiQuest. They tried to tell us that it would be a cool experience but we'd been planning to take our first trip to the beach and couldn't be persuaded to go with them on their quest. Later in the week, when we were talking about what we would like to do before heading home, Sam explained that he thought he would really like to go to MagiQuest after all.

At first, I was hesitant to take him, feeling that we were there to be with family and since we'd missed our family's trip there, and we'd be leaving nearly everyone to go. (And it looked pretty hokey to me.) But he explained that it was really important to him. I remembered a family reunion in Maine where, having only lived in Kansas and Iowa, the only thing I wanted to do was go whale watching and how I didn't get to go because not enough other people wanted to go and decided I wasn't going to do that to Sam. So on the last full day, we grabbed my mom and headed to MagiQuest. She opted to watch an IMAX movie about the ocean while we were on the adventure but we appreciated her keep us company on the way there and back.

It ended up being cooler than I expected. First, he had to basically create his character. He decided to be from the Warrior clan which wasn't positioned to be as vicious as the word warrior sounds. Mostly, they were about strength. I would have picked Warrior or Woodsy. Most of the other clans were silly. Then we had to "power his wand" by paying. This gave him access to Magi training with an experienced wizard. He learned how to exist and go on quests in this kingdom and we were off to the Stone Circle to accept his first quest.

In each quest, he had to find and collect several items, take them to a particular place and do a certain thing. I think in his first quest, the Lightning quest, he had to find a sword, a shield, a book, a suit of armor and take it to a particular magical person. He would be awarded a Rune then rush back to the Stone Circle to receive instructions for completing the next quest.
There were probably 12 quests and in the two hours we played, he completed seven or eight. We had a map of the kingdom but after the first hour, we were pretty comfortable getting around without it. All of these people in one kingdom running around on their own quests reminded me to the online game he sometimes plays, RuneScape. The imaging was a bit of a rip-off from Harry Potter but who can blame them for wanting to ride that wave? Overall, it was mostly an electronic scavenger hunt/interactive video game.

It also reminded me a bit of Tiger Games' Lord of the Rings wireless sword tv game. Sam loved this game and we felt fine about letting him play for an extended period of time because he would come out of his room sweating from swinging the sword to power his character. Sometimes, Cam and I played too and knew first-hand that it was a workout. In MagiQuest, he had to wave his wand at items to collect them and at information stations to see what he was supposed to do next, etc. It wasn't as vigorous as waving the sword (or light saber in the case of the StarWars wireless tv game my brother got for Sam) but we were running around and up and down stairs which was a different type of movement than the tv or online games offer.

Sam was a bit disappointed because he didn't get to fight the dragon. We watched some other people dueling. He would have had to complete all of the quests then several adventures before coming close to the dragon and that just wasn't possible in the two hours I was willing to give to the game. I understood that the people who built the place couldn't let you beat the game on your first visit. They want you to come back many, many times.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there is no MagiQuest in California. They did mention a DinoQuest and said his wand would work there. Maybe on some future trip to LA, he can visit the Discovery Science Center in Santa Anna.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Riding adrenaline

One evening, a large group of our family met at the Oceanside Grill near a boardwalk-type area called The Pavilion. We had a direct view of the ocean from our tables. But Sam and I had eaten a fairly late lunch and weren't hungry. After visiting a bit, we wandered out to watch the sunset on the beach.

Nearby was a huge sand pile. We decided to climb it. Running up it was lots of fun. The view from the top was refreshing. Sam liked jumping down. This picture of Sam, Kellie and Ash captures some of the craziness.

After we'd settled down a bit, we were joined by our tiny cousin, Alyson, who also enjoyed climbing the sand pile, at her own pace, in her own way. Then a group of people was ready to ride The Hurricane, "South Carolina's biggest and badest wooden rollercoaster." Sam and I have ridden roller coasters before and loved them but that night, I wasn't sure I was up for it. We let their group go on figuring we could catch up with them later by cell phone.

Alyson wasn't ready to leave the sand pile but Sam, Kellie and I were. Since her parents were planning to take her on rides like the merry-go-round which are appropriate for her but might not have been what Sam and Kellie were looking for, I took the two of them into the park to ride some mid-range rides.
I ended up buying a wrist band for each of them that would allow them to ride as many rides as they wanted before the park closed at midnight. We had about two hours. Luckily, Sam and I had taken mid-day break in activity. (I even had a nap.) And now that the sun was down, the fun could begin. Here is a picture of them on their first ride, The Rainbow.

They liked it so much; they wanted to ride again immediately. They got good use out of the wristbands, riding many of the rides in the park. I was happy that Sam was able to ride with company and I was able to watch from the sidelines. The only snag was that my rental car had been blocked in at the place we were staying by another vehicle. We'd hitched a ride to the park with Ariel and Ash but after the rollercoaster ride, they were ready to head off to new adventures. So that we wouldn't have to leave the park, they loaned their car to us and saved the day.

We played until midnight. Just before the clock struck 12, we ran back to the first ride they had ridden. There wasn't a line. In fact, they were the only two ready to ride this time. The guy running the ride let me ride with them a couple of times for free. It was quite an adrenaline rush, riding into the air and then falling. We all screamed with glee.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Did I mention it was hot?

When we weren't at the beach in Myrtle Beach, we were often in or near the pool. On one of the last evenings, I especially enjoyed watching my cousins, Alan and Ken play with some of our tiniest children.

I remember swimming in a pool with my cousin Ken during the first Powell Family Reunion in Branson, Missouri in 1984 when we were 12 (me) and 11 respectively. And at another reunion, the first time I was ever slammed by a wave and came up having swallowed what seemed like the entire ocean through my nose, Kenny was there.

Sam got to be a big cousin on this trip. "Where's Sam?" Michael would ask. "Want to play air hockey?" Jonathon would implore. "Let's play chase." Alison would suggest. It was precious watching her let him carry her around the pool. She wasn't always comfortable in the water but with her cousin, Sam, she was secure.

It was fun watching how much the little ones' swimming improved over the course of the week. Michael and Sam both loved jumping off the side of the pool and seeing how big of a slash they could make.

My Dad joined the fun.

My mom is a superb swimmer and made sure my brother and I had swimming lessons regularly while growing up. She was often in the water with us. This time, she was relaxing by the pool.

John & Jo stopped out.

Holly was often nearby.

Liann found this incredible place.

And our patriarch, my dad's eldest brother, my Uncle Jerry stood by proudly. I love them all very much.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Surf's up.

Not surprisingly, my favorite activity at Myrtle Beach was spending time at the beach. I think we played in the waves every day we were there. Sometimes, more than once a day.

The first day, we were out for hours without the benefit of these boogie boards. It may not be apparent from these pictures but the waves were sometimes pretty intense (for a girl from Kansas anyway). If you stood in the break, they would slam into you and could easily knock you down. This happened more than once. Inhaling salt water through my nose was one of my least favorite activities at Myrtle Beach.

But these boards were a life-saver. Not only was it remarkably fun to actually catch and ride a wave, they served as a shield, bearing the brunt of the crashing water. It was wonderful being able to spend so much time with my brother, John on this trip. He loved the beach as much as we did and was often out there with us, looking around for Sam from time to time to "make sure his head was still above water."

When we bought the boogie boards, we also bought three beach shovels. One of Sam's favorite activities on any beach is to dig. After dinner, we went back to the beach with John and Johanna. John and I helped Sam dig a large hole. It didn't rival the ones he has built on other days but it was still fun.

Some of us looked cooler on the beach than others. My cousin, Ariel and her friend Ash were hip and happening.

Sam is a strong swimmer and did quite well on his own. I watched him catch and ride the surf to the shore many times but didn't get a picture that captured him in action. Here he is talking with my Aunt Maria. I loved watching both of them thoroughly absorbed in the experience. Maria's youthful spirit shines brightly. Her exhilaration is contagious.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

There's no place like home.

The time Sam and I spent in Myrtle Beach with family last week was meaningful and important. We had lots of fun. I will write about those experiences in the coming days. Today, I am happy to be home.

I hope your week was wonderful.

Missed you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Happy Campers - Salt Pt. State Park

You might remember how I slacked off in the driving department during the move. Now that we have gotten rid of the UHaul and traded it for our jazzy, new car, I am happy to drive. ; )
Towards the end of our four-day, 4th of July holiday weekend, the day after we purchased the new car, we planned to take her out for a spin. Cam had investigated several roadtrip options. Before hitting the highway, we stopped at REI to look into getting some hiking boots for me. After shopping, Cam said, let's grab our camping stuff incase we decide we want to go camping. So we quickly drove back home, grabbed the essentials and were off.
Cam wanted to make sure I was comfortable driving the car and also knows that as much as I love Hwy 1, the curves make me a bit queasy after an hour or so as the passenger. So I got to drive the first stretch of our trek north. I'd never been to Salt Pt. State Park and frankly, from the name, wasn't that excited but from the position on the map and Cam's enthusiasm, I was up for giving it a try. It is hard to take pictures that do the scenery on Hwy 1 justice while driving but I thought these shots of our smiling faces as we look out the window were pretty effective at conveying our happiness and exhilaration.
When we arrived at the park, we were surprised to find this campsite open. The blue through the trees is actually ocean. We were a bit worried about being cold at night that close to the water but were willing to give it a try.

A trail, that was supposed to be less than a mile long and take us to the beach, was very close to our campsite. We started down the trail and almost immideately saw this HUGE woodpecker, sort of a live version of Woody. There were also these impressive Blue Jays with black caps and this tiny bird that has a call I loved. We saw one singing and his tail did this little peep, peep, peep motion in conjunction with his call. It was fun to be able to visualize him whenever I heard the call the rest of the weekend.

Later, at Mt. Tam, I bought a "N. California Backyard and Trail Birds" deck of cards and think I may have identified two of the birds we saw at Salt Point. I think the Blue Jay was the Steller's Jay and the singing bird a California Towhee.

What I just read reminds me that the cap on the Jay is called a crest. The Towhee's description says their song is used primarily to attract mates. I like they way they describe their call, "The song, delivered from an open perch, consists of the bird's typical chip note repeated three or four times, followed by a descending and decelerating trill." Sounds right to me.

I'm haven't been able to confidently identify the wood pecker. Our deck of cards has three woodpeckers, the Nutall's, Acorn and Downy. All of them are large but none of them are pictured with the prominent red crest we saw. The Acorn Woodpecker is a possibility as it is the largest and has a mostly solid black back. I just don't remember any yellow on the one we saw and it doesn't really look like the bird in this picture. Although, I just read something calling them clown-faced. Maybe.
So, we tromped around quite awhile on that first trail. It was a pretty trail that doesn't seem to get much use but it kept seeing to end without actually taking us to the beach. We foraged around some and almost plowed through but decided it would be better to circle back and try again. We followed the road for awhile and found another, well-maintained trail that took us through lots of interesting looking trees and past come pretty water and rocks.

The walk to the beach on this trail was easy. It was all down-hill. It opened up to this grassy field leading to the ocean.

More breath-taking views.

Captivated, serene Cam.

and Mary.
and more wind. Seems to come with these brilliant, blue days.
That evening, Cam built a toasty fire. We roasted spicy brats and made smores. Since Sam wasn't around for us to be bad influences on, we enjoyed poking at the fire quite a bit. The red-hot coals always captivate me.

We sat under blankets (I mean, I sat under the blanket. Cam said he was, "Fine. Really." I have such a chivalrous husband. I'm lucky.) We warmed our feet and hands near the fire and stayed up to enjoy the heat as long as it lasted. We tried to watch the stars but the moon was nearly full so we didn't see too many. I was happy for the moon-light though. Finally, we crawled into the tent and zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags. Again, I had the blanket. Thanks, Cam. We were worried we would wake up in the middle of the night freezing but the next thing we knew, it was morning.
We packed up quietly and quickly and hit the road. We saw more deer and even some goats (tagged, farmer's goats) near the road as we wound along. We decided to stop at one more beach before heading away from Hwy 1 to the more direct but less scenic Hwy 101. The early-morning light made everything seem so peaceful. After enjoying the view for awhile we got back in the car.

It look like we just needed to take this tiny road between Hwy 1 to Hwy 101 and we'd be able to zip back to Chicago in no time. But, I have yet to learn that these tiny roads in scenic California are not always the straight, flat back roads of Kansas and Iowa. This one, weaved left, then right, then left again, through dense, lush, beautiful, old trees, past herds of cows we had to stop for because they were on the road, up and down incredible hills and valleys, past a lake and a vineyard. After well over an hour, we came to Hwy 101 and made good time the rest of the way home. Cam was able to call his mom and wish her happy birthday before she went to bed and I snuggled up on the couch to rest and recharge. These outings are both thrilling and tiring sometimes. Tomorrow, I leave for a week-long one to Myrtle Beach.

"I said, I feel alright, like the morning, I am Golden."

"I said, 'I feel alright,' like the morning, I am Golden. And I can't stop the wonders from happening around me. I said, 'I feel alright,' like the morning, I am Golden and I can't stop the wonders from happening around me. Yeah, Yeah. Like my mama said..." These pictures of our first visit to the Golden Gate Bridge remind me of a song by a Chicago band called, Hello Dave. I found an mp3. This quicktime file is a bit twangier than the "roots rock" version I own but the sentiment is there. If you let the song play a minute or two you will get to the culmination I had in my head.

The day we went to the Golden Gate Bridge was anything but golden from a weather perspective. But in our hearts, we were "Golden." I knew there was a place you could park on the Marin side of the bridge. I knew exactly where it was in relation to the bridge but not how to get there from Marin. We didn't want to cross the bridge because there is a $5 toll to go into the city and we weren't planning to go into the city, just wanted to check out the bridge.

So we used our map and drove through the fog in circles on these tiny park roads in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, trying to find this parking spot by the bridge. Once, when we could tell we were going the wrong way, we turned around and all of a sudden out my window, I saw an animal just sitting in the field or pasture we were passing. I pointed it out to Cam who thought it was a cat. According to the map, we were very close to Bobcat trail so I think we saw a bobcat. We were out there quite early, having awoken rested with lots of momentum. I'm looking forward to going back there another early morning just to explore the park. After turning around, we came to an on-ramp and decided just to cross the bridge in the car so we could come back and park.

While at home, the skies had been clear when we left, the fog by the bridge was so thick you could not see the top of it. It was also a bit cold and misty, but that didn't dampen our spirits. We enjoyed walking all the way across the bridge and back. Cam found out later that it was more than a 3 mile round-trip hike.
I like bridges. I enjoyed walking across the Brooklyn Bridge when I visited NYC. I like heights and water and connecting so I guess the fact that I like walking across bridges isn't that odd. (Less odd than the time I climbed a water tower in high school but I digress.) The Golden Gate Bridge is definitely one of my favorite bridges and walking across it holds special meaning for me. My Dad and I walked across it when I was 15 or 16. (He pointed out that that was almost half my life ago.) And when Sam and I were in California five years ago, we walked out to the first peak together. Traversing the bridge with Cam is a memory I will treasure, as well.