Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sam's 1st Week of X-Sports Camp

Here are a couple of videos of Sam from the end of his first week of X-Sports camp.

He's running from the left at the beginning of this video.

An octopus stole the show

Yesterday morning, as soon as everyone was awake and ready to go, we headed south, towards Monterey. It is hard to believe that we hadn't been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium during the two years we've lived here.

My first visit, during a Powell Family Reunion, when I was about 14 years-old, was life-changing. I was in awe. That's when I decided I was going to be a marine biologist. ; )

I next went there with Sam and my Aunt Kay when Sam was three-years-old but that was over seven years ago.

Cameron had never been. As much as we love nature, learning about animals and museums, it was time to go.

The fog was so dense on the Golden Gate Bridge that we couldn't see anything but fog off either side. It stayed gloomy for most of our drive down. We took the freeway most of the way which got us there quickly and took us past some green scenery. Workers were in the fields, busily picking strawberries. I need to remember to thank them the next time I eat some. Cam had raspberries and other healthy treats for us to eat on the way down.

When we finally exited, things started to look familiar. Parking was easy and it wasn't too crowded when we arrived, around 10am, shortly after the museum opened. Our first stop was at the otter tank. We watched them diving from below then ventured out onto the deck where we saw harbor seals lounging and pointed out sea stars. (This Flickr set has more pics from 2001.)

Our next stop was the touch tank, where we were able to feel giant cucumbers and observe live abalone. The rays allowed us several nice touches. The flounder or halibut, who burry themselves in the sand were fascinating to me too.

But the star of the show yesterday was a giant octopus. One of them seemed to be sleeping and wouldn't show much of himself but the other one was very active, flowing around the tank, reaching with his tentacles, stretching and showing himself from every side. We were given such an amazing show.

We saw his eye on top, the openings in his head, him propelling himself around and changing from a vibrant red to more of a marbled reddish white. We learned about how intelligent, expressive and emotional they can be.

The jellyfish

Before we left, I wanted to see the otters from above. The four of them were very active, swimming on their backs, rubbing or scratching their glistening fur, turning flips, rolling, wrestling and frolicking alone and in pairs.

While I'd never seen anything like the show the octopus put on, these guys continue to be my favorite.

We grabbed some lunch at the Thai place across from the aquarium, on the other side of Cannery Row. We read about how Steinbeck's book by the same name was based on the area where we were standing and discussed that it was probably worth a read. Cam and I talked about how moving Grapes of Wrath was for each of us.

Sam's class recently read a book called Espiranza Rising about people from Mexico who came here to find work and faced hardship similar to the characters Grapes. Huge shout-out to Cameron who shared about 10 of his free Fridays to volunteer for Literary Circle in Sam's class. The teacher and I were greatly appreciative of his presence and contribution. I wasn't in the class but to be part of the experience, read Espiranza Rising on my own. One day, maybe Sam and I will read Grapes of Wrath together. (We're on Tolkein's Return of the King now.)

The weather had cleared a bit and we decided to take Highway 1 home. On our way, we listened to some of my new favorite music.

While driving, we talked about coming back to explore the state beaches south of San Francisco another day and remembered how Cam and I'd stopped at several beaches, in 2006, on our way home from Big Sur on the day after Thanksgiving.

We talked about what an amazing place we live and where we might go on our next adventure, whenever that may be. (Apparently, Sam told his dad a couple of months ago that we might more to Italy. This is nothing we'd ever discussed. I guess Sam was speaking to the possibility that we may go anywhere at anytime. We are restless and curious but we are also happy. Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.)

We stopped at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. We were surprised that we weren't chilly staring off into the distance from there. The ocean breeze was mild yesterday. The lighthouse itself was closed but there were educational displays in a nearby building. Sam and I enjoyed learning about how the lighthouse lenses were developed.

We considered stopping at Cliff House for a snack since Sam hadn't been there before or explored Sutro Baths but we weren't that hungry just yet and thought we'd save it for a time when we could have pop-overs. ; )

Cam tossed out the idea of In and Out Burger. Sam is almost always up for that option. For once, I wasn't in the mood for fries or a milkshake. We decided to pick-up an order to go for Sam to eat at home.

Then, Cam took me out for dim sum at Harmony, a restaurant in nearby Straw-
berry Village. We've now had two lovely dates there.

It was an action-packed, thoroughly enjoyable day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Camera Envy - Yosemite Pics from Liz's Camera

Jim and Liz gave us our first digital camera. It was rev-
olutionary for its time.

Since then, we've gone through three cameras and are currently I'm using a nice hand-me-down from my dad.

As much as we have app-
reciated each of these cameras, the first digital camera I've used that came close to rivaling the love I felt for the non-digital SLR that died on me, about the time we moved to Chicago, was the camera Liz had with her at Yosemite, a Nikon D40. It captures expressions.

Cam and I have posted the photos we took with our camera. Here is a Flickr set of photos that were taken with Liz's camera during their trip to northern California. She is the only one who had a shot of all of us by the Grizzly Giant, one of the Giant Sequoias.

The last shot in the set, this one of Jim and Liz on the Footbridge to Pt. Bonita Light-
house, was taken w/our camera.

It was the only photo Cam had from this day of exploring in Marin. After days of amazing experiences, the adults were camera worn.

We didn't get any photos from our dinner at the Thai place near the Hyatt or of the views from the Hyatt or of our brunch at Cliff House.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other things that we don't have photos of already which is one reason having photos is so important to me.

Thanks for taking these, Liz and for letting us try out your camera.

We greatly enjoyed our time with you and Jim. Thanks for coming to visit.

The last of our Yosemite pictures.

I'm finally getting around to posting the last of our Yosemite pictures. But don't worry, the story's not over yet. ; ) Liz shared the photos from her camera with us. I've picked my favorites from that set and plan to post them soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the great shots of Yosemite Falls Sam took on our approach. There are interesting ones of a Native American dwelling and a spider in this set too.

Our last day at Yosemite.

Our last day in Yosemite. The adults were getting tired of taking pictures and of having their picture taken. We opted to take only memories and put the camera down for the most part.

Happily, Sam was ready for his turn as photographer. He took some lovely shots.

The slight breeze blowing over Bridal Veil Falls helped us understand the origin of the name but made seeing it up close difficult.

I like his shadow peace picture too.

Here is a Flickr set of some of the photos Sam took at Bridal Veil Falls, in our final hours of the trip, this past spring.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A lot to celebrate...

Yesterday was the third anniversary day of the day Cameron, Sam and I eloped. You may remember we had a family camping honeymoon at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I greatly appreciate that while each of the couples in this group of three have their own unique, special relationship, we became an official family together.

Before long, Sam (who will be 11 next month) will be even more independent and spending more time with others. But for now, he's still a snuggler and I'm soaking it up. I'm so thankful to have Cameron's friendship, companionship, partnership and love and look forward to growing even closer in the coming years as we have more couple time.

Today is the second anniversary of the day we arrived in California. This blog has been a celebration of that event.

In a few minutes, Sam and I are heading into the city for the Juneteenth street fair. We hope to learn, enjoy ourselves and do a bit of recruiting for CASA. It is hot. Wish us luck.

Check out Cam's blog where he touches on how we celebrated some of these things and passes on the message, "Darling, do not to fear what you don't really know."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rough Recap of our first Day in DC

I'll go ahead and post this rough recap of our first day in DC and go back and add some photos and edit it later.

We woke up and bolted out of here at 7:45 am, rushing to the Metro to try to get some of the tickets to the top of the Washington Monument that they start giving away at 8:30am. Race for the Cure "runners" on the Metro. Line at the Monument. I called my folks to say Hi but wasn't up for talking much. It was still before 6am in California. I was hot the weather was muggy and I hadn't had breakfast of any caffeine. We got the last 3 tickets for the last slot of the day. What we wanted as we had noon and 7pm apts.

Walked to Jefferson National Memorial. Beautiful. Impressive. Had never seen up close. Liked the words inside. A kid from Wisconsin asked Sam where he was from. When he said, San Francisco, they asked, "You've been on the Golden Gate Bridge?" When he answered, "Yes," he was congratulated. Another kid from the group said, "We should take a picture w/this kid." They did. Outside, a small high school (or middle school) band was playing the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs. Brought back memories.

Walked past where the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, where they print the paper money. (Which isn't actually made of paper but fiber like cotton per our tour guide.)

Had some breakfast, including a knish, in the Holocaust Museum Cafe to cool-off, relax and refuel. The ladies made a delicious iced vanilla coffee drink for me. The caffeine helped.

Since we still had some time before our tour of the Holocaust Museum, we decided to go check out the WWII Memorial. My mom had mentioned that morning that it was one of the newer memorials and I didn't think I'd seen it before.

Hot walk to it. Loved the Bronze story panels on the walkway to and from the fountain.

Then, walked around the Washington Monument (instead of cutting across the park) to stay in the shade of the trees on the periphery. Saw the White House in the distance.

Returned to the Holocaust Museum. Each of us picked out an ID card, each with information about the experience of a Jewish person during the Holocaust. Two of our three people died which seems to be representative of what happened to the millions of people were wrongly persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and murdered during that time.

Yesterday, seemed to be the first in-depth telling of the history Sam had experienced. I was proud of his seriousness and willingness to watch, listen and learn. Walking through Daniel's Story, a Child's Story of the Holocaust, helped personalize the information and bring the experience to life for us. It was a lot to absorb but incredibly important.

We ended up in the cafe of the Museum of Natural History for lunch. We'd thought about eating on the grounds of the Washington Monument but it really felt like we were in a sauna so we opted for another hour of air conditioning. I was happy to be able to have an egg plant sandwich and a salad (even if they were just OK). Sam shared his fries and Cam and I split a chocolate bar too.

Next was the Washington Monument. Before arriving in DC, I'd been saying that I'd wanted to go to the top of it my whole life. Standing at the base of it that morning, I remembered that I had been able to go to the top of it when I was here w/my 6th grade class, when I was about a year older than Sam. What I'd remembered was that I hadn't been able to go to the top the last time I was here, when Sam was three. This time, we had tickets.

Thankfully, the bench for people with tickets for the 4:30pm tour was in the shadow of the monument. I reminisced with Sam about how we liked to go to the top of the Arch when we lived in St. Louis. We also talked about how we had gone to the top of the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower in Chicago. The view from the top of the 555 Washington monument is impressive on each of the four sides.

From there, we took a walk along a park, past the White House, to the National Archives building. We talked about how this was the place where Nicholas Cage stole the Declaration of Independence in that National Treasure movie. We stood in line to get inside the building then stood in line to get to see the documents. It was memorable to be that close to the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.

Afterwards, we walked towards the capitol, along another park and arrived at Union Station. In a bit, we'd catch a trolley that would take us on the night tour of the monuments. In the meantime, we enjoyed some well-deserved Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Of course, the child opted for a fruit smoothie. My Chunky Monkey (banana ice cream w/walnuts and chocolate chunks) in a waffle cone was quite enjoyable.

Jazzy Jan was our drive and tour guide on the trolley. She was informative, humorous and fun. She kept us moving but made sure we had just enough time at each stop. The first stop was at the Franklin Delanor Roosevelt Memorial. I hadn't been to the FDR memorial before. His quotes about social responsibility are inspiring to me. The sunset was lovely too.

Our next stop was near the Lincoln Memorial. We walked over the the Vietnam National Memorial first. Explaining to Sam that each name, which took up such a tiny bit of space, represented a life made the magnitude of the wall's size significant. I told him about how I'd been there with my family when I was about his age. There is a photo of my brother standing next to my dad at the wall. I remember my dad being moved when he found the names of men he knew on the wall.

After the Vietnam War Memorial, we walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to go meet Abe. He is impressive. We read the Gettysburg Address and then sat on the steps of the monument, looking out on the Reflecting Pool, the WWII Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.

There was a storm brewing in the area and we enjoyed seeing streaks of lightning in the distance. Sometimes, the lightning would light up the clouds.

Before returning to the trolley, we walked through the Korean War Memorial. The faces of the men looking out at us were captivating.

Our final stop on the trolley was the Iwo jima Memorial. We learned that the statue, of the men raising a flag on the top of the island's highest point, is the largest bronze sculpture in the world.

We learned other interesting pieces of information, as it started to rain and we rode the trolley back to Union Station. From there, we took the Metro back to the stop closest to our hotel and went back to the room to rest and relax.

After a shower, I watched Hilary Clinton calling her supporters to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States. It was a day full of patriotic experiences.

Cam's 91-year-old grandmother and his dad's sister are on their way to meet us. I'm glad I will get to see them for a few minutes before I head off to my conference. Have a great day.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Giant Sequoias

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Washington D.C. Since I was awake at 4am today, I thought I'd get up and post a few more Yosemite pictures.

The morning after we climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and back down by way of the John Muir trail, we woke up and went to see the Giant Sequoias.

We were feeling a bit more subdued which fit the tranquil feel of this grove of ancient trees.

Here are a few random shots. Sam and an enormous pine cone. (We left it there.)

Mary and the Grizzly Giant.

Sam took up the art of shadow photo-

We were intrigued and baffled by the red shoots we saw growing in a few places.

On our way out, it was nice of this sign to give us an explan-

Here are more photos from our time with the Giant Sequoias.