Spring break: Big girl

April 18th, 2014
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Olivia exercised her independence on this trip by asking to do things herself. It started at Disneyland, where she was very eager to ride the rides by herself. If the lines were short, if the carriage accommodated just one to two riders per row, and if the attendant allowed her to go alone, then I'd say OK.

Olivia in her own row on the Winnie the Pooh ride

Olivia in her own row on the Winnie the Pooh ride. This was a big deal for her.

I let her go by herself on Tarzan's Treehouse at Disneyland. We went together as a group first, then she asked to go by herself. It is a walking attraction, and it involves a fair amount of steep stairs, which is why it did not have a line.

Olivia waving at me from Tarzan's Treehouse.

Olivia waving at me from Tarzan's Treehouse.

It's totally contained so she really can't run off or get snatched, but I was still quite the Nervous Nellie. I stood by the exit staring up at the walking path, trying to follow her movements. I didn't let my guard down until Olivia safely exited. Claus and Joann just laughed at me while they sat on the side and talked.

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It continued in Santa Cruz, when we checked into the hotel. I booked a room with two beds because historically, I will sleep with Olivia and Claus will sleep alone. That is not the way he wants it, but it is the way everyone gets the most sleep.

He doesn't like sleeping with her because she kicks him. He would like to sleep with his wife, but his wife often likes to sleep next to their child. Just when we travel. So, two beds.

Two beds at Hotel Paradox

Two beds at Hotel Paradox (Courtesy: Hotel Paradox)

She looked at the set up and declared, "I want to sleep by myself." Then, however, when it got to the actual bedtime, she decided she couldn't fall asleep without me so I was asked to sit with her until she fell asleep, then I could be released to Daddy's bed.

I never did release myself to Daddy's bed. I like sleeping with her, and I was so tired I would fall asleep at the same time as she did, anyway.

I'm afraid that pretty soon she will be able to sleep by herself. And then I will be the clingy one asking if I can be with her. My big girl.

Spring break: Mommy's purse vest

April 16th, 2014
By

I used a Scottevest on this trip. It's something I bought a few trips ago with my friend Jen, who is in the know about all things new or useful. Jen knows everything about everything.

The Mom Vest (at Natural Bridges State Beach)

The Mom Vest (at Natural Bridges State Beach)

This travel vest is marketed as having some 17 pockets, but really, it's more like nine good ones. The other "pockets" are small and useless. Still, nine is a lot.

It's not the most fashion forward, but there is an occasion for everything, and I felt this one required the use of a vest that could hold a lot of things. I was motivated primarily by Disneyland, and not wanting to carry a purse there.

Claus made fun of me for carrying everything and the kitchen sink, or so it seemed like it to look at me. Every pocket was so bulging that I looked like I was wearing a flak jacket.

People (and by people, I mean Husband) made fun of me but, for example, here is what I was able to stuff into the vest in one wearing:

Assorted over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen, Tums, and bandages, just in case;
cell phone;
Disney mouse ears headband;
5 granola bars;
bag of M&Ms;
sunglasses;
lipstick;
tube of sunblock;
small bag of dates;
tissue for sick kid;
wallet;
hardcover journal and pen for character autographs;
Disney pins for souveneirs

The mouse ears headband. It is not a small thing!

The puffy mouse ears headband. It is not a small thing!

It's actually not super comfortable to sit back with the stuff in the back pocket, FYI, but I needed every available space because I was the Walking Mom Bag who carries everything for everyone.

Back at Joann's house, on the day we flew from Orange County to San Jose, she wanted to stock us with a snack bag for the plane. (I love Joann.) As we are traveling with a young child, I do appreciate having food constantly on hand.

I put some pizza slices into a baggie and laughed to Claus that I'd stuff this into my vest. He knew I was joking but Joann didn't, and she reacted like I was crazy. There, a joke was born.

For the rest of the trip, we would laugh about me carrying pizza or real food (not just packaged food) in my vest. Thereafter, Claus would do stuff like gesture to the leftover food on the plate and suggest that I wear the to-go bag of spaghetti.

These people laugh at me, but when they need something and I have it, then who's silly? Plus, I can get on the plane without even needing a carry on bag. Ha!

Seriously, it did serve its purpose well. If you have mom-like considerations as I did, I could recommend the vest.

Spring break: UCSC Arboretum and hummingbirds

April 14th, 2014
By

A trip to Santa Cruz, for me, wouldn't be complete without a visit to the University of California at Santa Cruz where I spent my first year after high school. It is a gorgeous campus set on more than 2,000 acres overlooking Monterey Bay.

Merrill College, one of the ten colleges that comprise UCSC

Merrill College, one of the ten colleges that comprise UCSC

We spun around the campus briefly, looked at my former college (Merrill), and spent most of the time at the arboretum, a research and teaching facility committed to plant conservation that serves both the campus and the public.

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UCSC Arboretum

UCSC Arboretum

"Its rich and diverse collection, containing representatives of more than 300 plant families, provides beginning students with a broad survey of the plant kingdom. Facilities for growing plants offer students and research faculty opportunities to experiment with living plants," says the website.

"The Arboretum maintains collections of rare and threatened plants of unusual scientific interest. Particular specialties are world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Large assemblages of plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California natives are displayed on the grounds. Many of the species in these collections are not otherwise available for study in American botanical gardens and arboreta."

Tour guide Mike. Thanks, Mike! You were awesome!

Tour guide Mike. Thanks, Mike! You were awesome!

We were lucky enough to get a tour with a knowledgeable and friendly volunteer named Mike, who gave us a quick look at the estimated 55 acre arboretum that included a little history lesson on the founding of the town and the school itself.

Old man banksia (Banksia serrata)

Old man banksia (Banksia serrata)

Eucalyptus caesia

Eucalyptus caesia

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Eucalyptus caesia

 

While he generously pointed out interesting plants like the cut leaf dryandra, banksia serrate, and eucalyptus casia, I must admit the most interesting section to our family was the Hummingbird Trail. This specially bred garden has a huge bush of hummingbird food.

Ruby cluster grevillea

Ruby cluster grevillea

Hummingbirds like the flowers of the ruby cluster grevillea, and this shrub is so big, it's enough to stave off the naturally-territorial birds' tendency to chase off other birds who might compete for food. In the quarter hour we stood there watching, listening, and getting educated by Mike on hummingbird behavior, we saw about 50 of the tiny birds.

Ruby cluster grevillea

Ruby cluster grevillea

Three types of hummingbirds frequent this area: Anna's, Allen's, and Rufous. They're so small and quick that it was impossible for me to get a photo for you, but maybe that just means you should come up here yourself to see it. It is a very special experience!

Hummingbirds like red, and by chance, Olivia was wearing bright pink. Perhaps it was the reason why she was able to get up close to one; Mike explained that the bird might have been flying up to see if this brightly colored shirt was a flower to eat. It was one of her trip highlights!

 

This eucalyptus tipped over in the 1989 earthquake, then kept growing horizontally. It's a living work of art!

This eucalyptus tipped over in the 1989 earthquake, then kept growing horizontally. It's a living work of art!

Other little woodland critters we saw included rabbits and quail, making this a very fun and memorable experience for our family.

If you go:

Wear walking shoes. For more information go to http://arboretum.ucsc.edu.

Spring break: Monterey Bay Aquarium

April 11th, 2014
By

Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in Monterey.

Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the nation's top family attractions, with one of the world's largest exhibit aquariums. It was a must-see on our family's trip itinerary!

Visitors enjoy the million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, featuring many returning visitor favorites. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Visitors enjoy the million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, featuring many returning visitor favorites. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The moment we walked in, it felt like we were swimming with the fishes due to the three-story aquarium with amazing views of sharks, sardines, and kelp-forest favorites. Our first stop was at the newly remodeled, million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, to watch a feeding of tuna, turtles, sharks, sardines and others.

Diver John talks to the audience during the daily fish feeding

Diver John talks to the audience during the daily fish feeding.

A friendly diver named John and a volunteer docent explained to the crowd for 15 minutes what we were seeing in this tank, as well as why each animal is important in the ocean's ecosystem. We learned about Monterey Bay's status as a marine protected area, how fish swim, and how the SCUBA equipment works; a well-rounded lecture for the many eager children sitting on the ground in front of the tank, as hungry for information as the fish were for the two-and-a-half pound of fish food John was doling out.

It was a great display, and I highly recommend you try to take in at least one daily show or feeding, as they're entertaining for both kids and adults. Show up a few minutes early to secure a seat or a spot on the floor.

Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris) named Rosa. © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris) named Rosa. © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Another much anticipated exhibit was the southern sea otters, housed in a two story tank so you can look at them as they romp, tumble and wrestle above or in the water. The spirited sea otters are all rescued animals, no longer able to survive in the wild.

The big surprise for Olivia is that they are much larger than they seem like in photos- about five feet long and up to 70 pounds. The big surprise for me was that they were hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts- sad.

Spotted jelly from“The Jellies Experience.” © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Spotted jelly from“The Jellies Experience.” © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The Jellies is the exhibit that turned out to be my favorite. "Enter a far-out world where jellies dance, bloom and sting. These graceful and mysterious animals flaunt an array of fashions, from simple, see-through styles to vibrant colors with ruffles and beads. Some even glow when the light is just right," says the website. I could easily have sat there for an hour being mesmerized by their rhythmic movements and otherworldly glow.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies. This photo is not upside down.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

The Rocky Shore touch pool was fun, of course, but Olivia's favorite display was the Wave Crash gallery! We have not seen anything like that before, and all the little kids were delighted to stand under an acrylic tunnel and be "splashed" by a huge wave every half minute. The Wave Crash pumps about 600 gallons of water and "crashes" every 30 seconds. That's more than 500,000 gallons per eight-hour day.

Leopard sharks cruise a wetland pool in the Coastal Wetland to Sandy Shore exhibit in Ocean's Edge. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Leopard sharks cruise a wetland pool in the Coastal Wetland to Sandy Shore exhibit in Ocean's Edge. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

It took us three hours to feel like we'd seen the majority of things, but if you really stopped to read each and every placard like my cousin Toni, it would take you double the time. It really is a great way to pass half a day or a whole day.

Anchovies swimming endlessly in a circle. Beautiful silver streaks.

Anchovies swimming endlessly in a circle. Beautiful silver streaks.

Founded in 1984, the mission of the non-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to protect ocean life for future generations by inspiring young and old with the beauty and wonder of the oceans. To that end, there is a heartbreaking display on how human carelessness kills marine life, helpful solutions as to what we can do about it now, and compelling reasons as to why you and I should care. If you'd like to support the aquarium or its conservation efforts, go to https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/support-us.

Penguin exhibit

Penguin exhibit

It's a beautifully designed aquarium and a place the entire family can enjoy. Don't miss it if you're in the area!

If you go:

Walking shoes are a must. Plan for three hours if possible so you can see it all without feeling rushed. Go early for street parking or find a nearby pay lot. More information at https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/visit.

 

Spring break: Winchester Mystery House

April 9th, 2014
By

Winchester Mystery House™ is an extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship – marvelous, baffling, and eerily eccentric. It's a huge house with 160 rooms built with no obvious architectural plan, constructed for 38 years until the homeowner died.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

As the story from the website tells it, "In 1862, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The couple’s life together was happy, and they moved in the best New England society. However, in 1866, disaster struck when their infant daughter, Annie, died of then mysterious childhood disease marasmus. Mrs. Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later, in March 1881, her husband’s premature death from tuberculosis added to Mrs. Winchester’s distress. It is said, she ultimately sought help from a spiritualist.

According to some sources, the Boston Medium consulted by Mrs. Winchester explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits – in fact, by the spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, and it was implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim.

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However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.

Mrs. Winchester’s financial resources were virtually unlimited; upon her husband’s death she received several million dollars in cash and 777 shares of stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Upon her mother-in-law’s death in 1897, Mrs. Winchester received 2,000 more shares, which meant she owned just under fifty percent of the company’s capital stock. This provided her with an income of $1,000 a day – back in the days before income taxes."

In today's dollar, that would be $23,000 a day.

There are staircases that lead to the ceiling or into an eight foot drop to the floor below, miles of twisting hallways, doors of various sizes, rooms that she had sealed off to appease the spirits, a seance room, and the number 13 worked into many rooms and features (including 13 parts to her will.) It is unusual - and best experienced in person.

Claus and Olivia in Winchester Mystery House gardens

Claus and Olivia in Winchester Mystery House gardens

We enjoyed our Mansion tour, and our self-guided stroll in the gardens afterwards. I wonder what this place is like at night on a Friday the 13th?

If you go:

I recommend walking shoes as the shortest tour is 65 minutes. Reservations recommended. For more information to go http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm.