Thursday, March 31, 2011

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Jill's Journal: If there’s one thing Santa Cruz is known for (other than surfers, hippies, social activism, and the slogan “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”), it’s the Beach Boardwalk. We had driven by it a few days ago and one look at the roller coasters had the girls begging us for a visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the attractions, eateries, etc. on the Boardwalk are only open on weekends until summer…and it’s Thursday. Whoops.

It took a while for the girls to accept that none of the 35 rides or attractions were open, but once they got over the disappointment, we still had a fun time walking up and down the famous stretch. It’s far different than boardwalks we’ve been to on the East Coast. In Atlantic City, for example, the boardwalk is all about casinos and shopping, plus it has a really cool old-time feel with the wooden planks (and then there’s the whole awesome Monopoly factor!). It’s kind of an adults’ playground and definitely not family-friendly. The Santa Cruz version is all California: casual yet glitzy, with every next thing bigger and better than the last thing. It’s more of an a teenagers’ dream, mostly an amusement park with an awful lot of beautiful, half-naked people wandering about even in this off-season. The girls are hoping to come back on the weekend, but I think we’ve seen enough. If we were college students with no kids, that might be a different story…

It’s definitely warm enough for shorts! Here’s three little sets of knees seeing gorgeous, intense sunshine for the first time in many months. The Boardwalk stretches for a mile on the white, sandy beach and, after exploring, we were beach-bound for some playtime. I should have taken this picture after those knees were covered in sand!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Mystery Spot

Jill's Journal: Every now and then, we just have to do something kooky and touristy. Today was that day as we headed to the famous “Mystery Spot.” The girls absolutely, completely, totally loved it. Look how mysteriously sideways they are in this photo; poor Victoria is hanging on for dear life.

“The Mystery Spot is an area about 150 feet in diameter located in the redwood forests just outside of Santa Cruz. Within the Mystery Spot the laws of physics do not apply. It appears as though every law of gravitation has gone haywire, turned topsy-turvy and just doesn’t make sense. Some unseen magnetism or phenomenon just upsets all former ideas of equilibrium. What is it that makes one stand up leaning backwards or sideways?” –from the brochure

And, indeed, the instant we stepped inside the area, it looked like everyone was standing sideways when we all felt we were standing straight up. The pictures are all skewed partially because it’s impossible to take a straight photo when you’re at such an angle!

Erika climbed almost up to the ceiling on a ladder. The angle is such that she felt like she could have walked across the wall.

The guide took out levels several times to show us the ground is level, although compasses and any other measurements within the 150-foot circle are off and show up to a 17 degree angle. The guide also rolled billiard balls and even my chap stick to prove different points; very mysterious things happened every single time.

As soon as we were in the Mystery Spot, I immediately felt like I had motion sickness and several other people in the group were nauseated. One lady even fell over! Here I am hanging from the doorway, feeling like I’m hanging straight down but clearly at quite an angle. Very mysterious, indeed.

The girls were completely enthralled. Halfway through the tour, Madelyn turned to me in all sincerity and confided, “Other tours aren’t very interesting, but this one really is!” Too cute.

An added bonus: the girls got to see the gigantic banana slugs up close and personal. This one was eating a good-sized grape that had clearly seen better days. The girls were fascinated by them. I would freak out if I ever found one in the house.

To end the fun little outing, we picked up dinner at Taqueria Santa Cruz, a little hole in the wall we’d heard about from a friend of Rob’s. Oh, how we’ve missed authentic Mexican food. Delicious.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Jill's Journal: What a magnificent treasure! Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a place of absolute serenity, or at least it would be without three rowdy little ones. We spent the afternoon hiking the easy trails among the giant redwoods, many of which are up to 1,800 years old. With the exception of the trail that runs through it, the 40-acre, centuries-old redwood grove is said to have been unchanged for at least the last 200 years (when Mexico sold the land in a grant to an interested citizen).

The “Big Trees Grove” is strikingly peaceful, so incredibly tranquil. And the trees are so big they seem to defy the laws of nature. This snapshot of our two eldest gives a perspective on how gargantuan these trees are and how they dwarf everything around them.

This tree is one of the tallest in the park. With a base of over 17 feet wide, it stretches over 270 feet into the sky. For comparison, that’s about as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Trees add another ring to their trunks yearly, so they’re among the easiest things on earth to date. This particular redwood trunk was about 2,200 years old when it fell in 1934. It was already pushing three centuries old when Jesus was born! That’s not far removed from the time when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire (thank you, 1st grade history).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Full-Timing, Homeschooling Family!

Jill's Journal: A question we frequently get from non-full-time travelers is whether we’ve met a lot of people like us. And the answer, honestly, is no. Last summer, there were definitely a number of families camping, but with one exception, they were all on vacation and not full-timers.

Instead, the vast majority of our fellow campers have been retirees. We might exchange a few pleasantries here and there, but that is usually about it.

And now we’re in Felton, California, the friendliest place we’ve been since Bardstown, Kentucky, last July. We officially know more people here than we did in the neighborhood we lived in for 12 years! We literally can’t step outside our door without greeting Ryan or Deacon or Sam or Greg or Jill (yes, another Jill!) or Emma or Liam or…well, you get the idea.

To our great amazement, there is even another full-timing, homeschooling family here. And they just happen to have a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, much to Erika’s and Madelyn’s great excitement (poor Victoria always gets left out!). It was surreal to get a knock on the door during lunch today from children asking if the girls could play, something that probably happens in neighborhoods every single day.

The girls have had such fun playing with this other family and they came along with us to our playground/covered bridge outing today. Needless to say, the adults have also had a lot in common and have had a ton of fun comparing notes on our uncommon lifestyle.

Felton Covered Bridge

Jill's Journal: About a mile or two from our campground is a lovely little playground which has the added bonus of a little history. The Felton Covered Bridge is the tallest covered bridge in the nation. It was built in 1892 of local redwood and was once Felton’s only link (via road) to Santa Cruz. In 1938, a concrete bridge was built nearby over the San Lorenzo River and the road was diverted. Happily, this lovely, approximately 80-foot long bridge was preserved in its place – the first one in the West to be saved after it was no longer used. Santa Cruz County is actually the only county in California to have as many as three covered bridges still intact.

And yes, that is the unusual sight of a horse crossing the bridge in this photo! The equestrian leading the gray told me horse people in the area take young horses across it regularly as part of their early schooling.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Surf City, USA

Jill's Journal: Santa Cruz, wonderful Santa Cruz. It just might be the epitome of the stereotypical surfer/liberal/hippie Californian, which is so not us, but gosh darn, it’s awfully fun to visit. We got to know the town a little bit
today and did quite a bit of exploring on foot. The highlight was clearly the surfers. We walked a good half-mile or more along West Cliff to watch the action and the girls could not have been more mesmerized. The amount of surfers in the water was staggering.

Walking along the cliffs, we slowly made our way to the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse and the home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The tiny museum is a gem, tracing over 100 years of surfing culture in Santa Cruz. It has early surfboards, which were nothing more than redwood planks, and traces the evolution of surfing all the way to today’s high-tech designs. The girls especially got a kick out of a board which survived a shark attack (the surfer made it too!). An 18-year-old surfer who died on a wave is even interred at the museum.

Surfing was introduced to Santa Cruz (and the U.S.) by three Hawaiian princes who attended university nearby in 1885. The royal Hawaiian sport spawned a mainland craze. Santa Cruz would certainly never be the same. Surfing is truly a culture all its own – and a fascinating one at that. There is evidence Hawaiians have been surfing since the at least 15th century and even Captain James Cook wrote about it in the 1770s, but it took those three Hawaiian princes in the late 1800s to transform California.

The museum overlooks legendary Steamer Lane, a well-known surfing location so named because the death-defying waves in that spot were once part of a shipping "lane" used by steamships. Ninety-two people have drowned in the area since they started keeping track in 1965.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dude, We are SO in California

(All over our campground of the week, redwood trunks are cut into furniture. The girls love discovering the different pieces, like this lounge chair.)

Jill's Journal: Felton, the little town we’re staying in, is quintessential, stereotypical California. It’s overtly friendly, it’s laid-back as can be, and we’re getting an absolute kick out of it. The first person we met today, a fellow camper, is a 4th-generation surfer from Santa Cruz who is unfortunately down on his luck at the moment. Within five seconds of our first conversation, he said in response to something, “That’s so gnarly!” I haven’t heard that word since high school. It was awesome. Dude.

In addition to the constant rain of the past week (maybe longer?), we got hit with a deluge of Biblical proportions during the night and morning. The good news is we didn’t float away. By afternoon, the deluge was down to a heavy mist and we made our getaway, planning to go to some indoor activities in Santa Cruz. The first road out of town was closed due to a mudslide. The alternate route was closed due to a downed tree. Clearly, we weren't meant to make it very far.

Instead, we went on a little drive, took a little walk, and spent a little more time with our gnarly friend. Happily, the rain is finally supposed to sputter to a stop tomorrow and we’ve got some fun things planned. Dude, it’s going to be so totally gnarly!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Redwoods and Mist

Jill's Journal: It was a quiet day in the rain among the redwoods and mist here in Felton. Even the trunks of these massive trees are interesting. Today, the girls got plenty of school in, Rob got plenty of work in, and we all got plenty of family time in. Tomorrow, rain or shine, we’ve got to get out and explore. We’ve been cooped up too long!

A few random thoughts:

*As we left the Monterey Peninsula yesterday, I neglected to say again how much we enjoyed it there. We may be back. In fact, we tucked a little piece of information into our collective back pockets as we left. Laguna Seca has volunteer opportunities where a family can commit for up to six months. You give 10 hours a week of your time, split between spouses, if need be, for free camping. Hmmmm…that is definitely something we’ll be thinking about for a possible future winter down the road.

*Homeschooling, or roadschooling as it can be called in our situation, rocks! Once again, the timing has been amazing when we least expect it. Today, Erika was learning about plants and how they drink water in 1st grade science. The textbook mentioned redwood trees and how water must travel up to 300 feet up their trunks to their leaves. Two days ago, that would have meant nothing to Erika. Today, we just looked out the window as understanding dawned in her eyes. So cool!

*In a similar vein, the curriculum we use is very big on geography. Anytime a certain place (anywhere in the world) is mentioned in any subject, we get out a large, foldable map. One of Erika’s jobs is to find the place and officially write it on the map in erasable pen. So many times, including today in literature, a place has been mentioned that we’ve actually been to already here in the U.S. It’s so exciting to her to be able to picture the place in her mind and immediately identify it on the map.

*And one last homeschooling note. We’re studying ancient cultures in 1st grade history, which means the two little girls have absorbed a tremendous amount as well. Erika is absolutely obsessed with ancient Egyptian anything. (Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire have done nothing yet to sway her love for Egypt.) We were recently discussing ethnicity at the dinner table and the girls know my heritage is Dutch. We told them Rob is all American, meaning the best of possibly lots of cultures. The girls asked if he had any Egyptian in him and we teased that yes, he just might. They have latched onto that like you wouldn’t believe and somehow they now believe their Daddy is “half Egyptian.” As if they didn’t already think he walked on water, this has elevated him even more in their eyes! Hilarious.

*Rob pointed out the banana slugs found in redwood forests tonight. These massive slimy creatures are the mascot of UC Santa Cruz. Ick!

*Somehow we lucked out and have television at this campground, which means we just got to enjoy the intense Kentucky game. How awesome to see UK make it to the Elite Eight in a year no one expected it. C-A-T-S, C-A-T-S, C-A-T-S!
I may be an Arizona State alumni, but my heart is in Kentucky. Go Big Blue!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tomorrow is Another Day

Jill's Journal: See how itty-bitty that picnic table looks at the bottom center of this snapshot? The gorgeous redwood trees in our new campground absolutely dwarf everything else. We are ensconced in an absolutely lovely place in Felton, California. It wasn’t where we planned to head today, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we have an absolute ball traveling. But every now and then, we have a day when it feels like traveling is no fun. Today was one of those days.

Our two youngest children were crabby little monsters for no apparent reason. It poured rain for what feels like the 873rd consecutive day, with no projected break in sight. And we moved for the first time in that rain (which ranks up there with dental work for pure enjoyment purposes).

Our destination was a campground in the Santa Cruz area and after the stress of negotiating too-narrow streets with a big rig, we arrived to find it was a bit, um, unsavory. We said thank you very much and quickly headed to a different campground, negotiating even worse streets and far too much traffic and crabby children and the pouring rain. Let’s just say the second campground was even worse and we moved on again. That’s how we ended up in Felton, about five miles or so away from Santa Cruz.

On the bright side, we survived and the crabby kids are in bed. And, if that’s the worst day we have traveling, we’re doing just fine. It’s still raining and it’s cold, very cold, but we’re eager to explore. And sometimes you’ve just got to have a not-so-fun day to truly appreciate all the good ones. Tomorrow is another day, a fresh start.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Special Day

Jill's Journal: Fourteen years and three kids later, we still love each other (and even like each other enough to live and work in 400 square feet). Happy Anniversary, my dear.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday’s Truck Turmoil

Jill's Journal: In spite of Erika telling us tonight during dinner that she listens to our conversations after she’s in bed and knows a lot more about being an adult than we think she does (!), little girls are blessedly oblivious to grown-up problems like truck trouble. They were much more concerned today with a welcome break in the rain that bought some outdoor time. Here’s Madelyn dangling from the monkey bars in Salinas just before she realized that she hasn’t quite mastered them yet. Hadn't I just said two days ago that she lives in the moment and doesn't worry about the consequences?!

Rob’s truck is back from the mechanic, although it was ready too late this afternoon for us to leave today. The sensor is fixed, the oil in changed, and Rob left with recommendations from the shop for so many other things that should be done it made our heads spin. We’ve heard it before, but apparently big Ford engines spend more time than usual visiting mechanics. UGH.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Miscellaneous Monday Moments

Jill's Journal: By popular request (Beppy’s), here’s two cuties showing off their tie-dye creations today. The third child in the trifecta absolutely refused to wear hers as it didn’t turn out exactly how she envisioned. Didn’t I just say yesterday that she likes things her way and only her way? Point proven.

A truck update: the mechanic believes it to be some sort of sensor issue. They finally got it running right at the close of business. Hopefully it’ll be finished in the morning.

And a random moment from today: A very contemplative Erika asked me how much longer we’ll be doing “this” (traveling). When I answered that I honestly didn’t know, but it would probably be a while, she said, “Well, in the beginning you said about three years and I think it’s pretty close to one already. That means two years more. It’s fun, but I really, really want a horse.”

When I was a kid, I had a horse and really, really wanted to travel. Isn't it funny how the grass is always greener on the other side?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rainy Day Fun

Jill's Journal: A big rainstorm has moved into the area and we don’t mind since we’ve been fortunate to have already seen what we’d hoped to on the Monterey Peninsula. Today we pulled out a tie-dye kit Rob had found for a rainy day. Yes, we realized after we started just how brave/insane we were to tackle this in the house, but it went well. I love how all three of the girls’ personalities show through in these snapshots. Erika concentrates intently and hesitates while she formulates her strategy. She finds great satisfaction in doing it absolutely right.

Madelyn dives in and just has fun with it. She isn’t concerned with the end result, only with living in the moment and making the most of it.

Victoria wants it her way and only her way, but is thrilled to be included as a big kid. She sticks her tongue out, Michael Jordan-esque, every time she’s focused.

It’s amazing how all three can be so different from each other.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

Jill's Journal: When you have an unexpected day at home, what better way to spend it than baking? The girls opted for chocolate chip pound cake. They all absolutely LOVE to help in the kitchen.

Liking the beaters is undoubtedly their favorite part. Victoria confided to me as she stood patiently on a chair and watched the mixer, “I just can’t wait for it to be ready.” In her 3-year-old cuteness, she put extra special emphasis on “can’t wait.”

Truck Trouble…Again

Jill's Journal: We were just about packed up and ready to move on from Monterey this morning when Rob tried to start his truck. No go. So alas, here we sit and there went his vehicle on a tow truck for the second time since our journey began. (And that doesn’t count the other two times he was able to limp it into a mechanic himself!)

But it could always be worse. We’re in a beautiful place. There’s nothing on our schedule that we can’t change. And this time we have tow coverage. Rob had just driven it last night with no problems, so fingers crossed it isn’t something major this time. Hopefully we’ll find out on Monday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Date with Daddy

Jill's Journal: Three little girls bundled up to brave the cold rain for a surprise afternoon date with Daddy. He took them to MY Museum (Monterey County Youth Museum), yet another time we got to take advantage of that Children’s Museum reciprocity membership. They were awfully excited…and I had a big grin on my face on the other side of the camera too. Quiet time for Mommy!


Jill's Journal: Oh Carmel, wonderful Carmel-by-the-Sea. Whether it’s the white sand beach, the fairy tale cottages, or the world-class shopping down streets that make one feel almost like they’re in a European village, Carmel has long been known as the “greatest meeting of land and sea.” Somehow it manages to be both quaint and glamorous, both welcoming and exclusive. And it does it all at the same time. Clint Eastwood was mayor here in the 1980s. Betty White and Doris Day helped turn Carmel into America’s most dog-friendly city, according to Dog Fancy Magazine. It rates at the top of several other nice lists too, including Conde Nast ranking it as #1 in “best ambiance” in the U.S. and the Travelers’ Choice Awards naming it the “best destination” in the U.S. Somehow it lives up to all that and more.

We’ve spent a lot of time in Carmel in the last two weeks, but haven’t actually done much of anything there. Shopping in the boutiques and art galleries is out…where would we put anything in the RV!? Fine dining also is out…three little kids probably wouldn’t appreciate gourmet meals. So, we’ve just soaked up some of the delightful atmosphere and enjoyed people watching. The cottage architecture all over town is some of my favorite. The snapshots below don’t do it justice, but at least they give a hint of how appeal is peppered everywhere in Carmel.

The beautiful Carmel Mission, established in 1771, was the second of the Spanish missions built in California. Like everything else in Carmel, it is divine.