Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hiking California: Muir Woods

Last year I picked up a $5 copy of "Best Hikes for Children: San Francisco Bay Area." It lists 90 interesting hikes, ranging from easy (strolling among the ferns near Fish Ranch Road) to the difficult (climbing ladders on Steep Ravine Trail in the North Bay).

Ron, Benny and I have done a few hikes from this book:

Huckleberry Path Nature Trail
Corte Madera Ecological Reserve Trail
The Miwok Trail

On Monday, Benny and I knocked down another one: No. 84, the Redwood Grove Trail Loop in Muir Woods.

(We tried to hike this one last year on Mother's Day, but by the time we arrived at the national park, the place was mobbed and parked cars lined the road practically back to Hwy. 101. So we instead walked along an exhaust-filled, traffic-choked roadway, otherwise known as the Corte Madera Ecological Reserve Trail.)

So I had Benny tucked into the car yesterday by 8:30 a.m., even though it was a non-holiday Monday. It was a good thing I did, because we we were lucky to find a place in the first overflow parking lot. Tour buses in front of the entrance were disgorging hundreds of tourists every minute.

This, of course, is not a hiking trail, but a wooden sidewalk curving along the line of Redwood Creek. You don't really walk, you shuffle along in a crowd. The tourists were mostly foreign, thank goodness, so the kids were well-behaved. The trees were lovely and Benny liked to have me read the descriptions that matched the numbered signposts. I'm raising my own little vacation dork right here.

But I was feeling a little stressed out; I mean, I left San Francisco to get away from people. TIme to take a side trail. Since Muir Woods does not have many picnic sites, my only option was to take Benny on the Camp Alice Eastwood trail, 3 miles round-trip, where we could eat our lunch. That, or buy an $8 organic salad at the gift shop's cafe and watch Benny spit out the leaves.

(Option 3, which was to find a secluded spot somewhere and eat really fast, wasn't an option because Benny's absorbed all this California environmentalist attitude and wouldn't allow it. Sigh.)

So we headed up the trail. Hiking makes me nervous because I'm terrible at reading trail maps and have a deep-seated fear of wandering in circles until the trail mix runs and I finally collapse and become part of "the nurturing decay of the forest understory." The first crossroad blessedly had a little signpost which, as is my habit, I read out loud three times to make sure I was going the right way. The second fork had no signs. I then blindfolded Benny and spun him around three times to point the way. No, I actually puzzled over the map, chose a fork and trudged up another couple of switchbacks. When we arrived at a dusty, bare clearing labeled "Camp Alice Eastwood," we started cheering and slapping high-fives.

The walk back was much easier, but Benny was getting tired. Back on the main trail, confused tourists kept asking me which way was the visitor's center. Honestly, how can anyone get lost on a wooden sidewalk? When I told Benny I couldn't afford to buy him a combination compass/magnifying glass/telescope/egg-beater/barometer, he burst into tears and cried all the way to the car. I dosed him with Milano mint cookies and he slept all the way home.

All in all, Muir Woods are very nice and the side trails could be spectacular, for all I know. But Benny and I think the redwoods further up the coast, which we saw on the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg, were much more impressive.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Save our serpentine!

Some fiend of a senator in Los Angeles named Gloria Romero has introduced a bill to pull serpentine from its throne as California's state rock. Advocates of the bill claim that asbestos fibers found in some forms of serpentine can be hazardous, and therefore that nasty, slippery little rock doesn't deserve the honor.

First of all, serpentine is a seriously cool rock. It forms when rock in the earth's mantle (below the crust) are smushed and heated up. It's totally unstable and very hard to build on and, of course, is all over earthquake-prone California. But I love it, and I sent Senator Gloria Romero the following email, which I copied Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on:

Dear Senator Romero:

I am surprised that with all of California's pressing problems, you are spending time and money on bill SB624. I am not a geologist, but I do like rocks, and serpentine has a deep, rich history in California.

I know some types of serpentine contain asbestos. So what? Nobody's telling people to go around sniffing crushed serpentine because it's the state rock. It's a naturally occurring mineral, not manmade insulation. People put aspects of the natural world to bad uses all the time. Is oil a bad thing because it's gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? Is sand a horrible thing because it could be made into glass, which can be broken and used to hurt somebody?

There have got to be better ways to raise public awareness of the dangers of asbestos than wasting time, energy and resources on SB624.


Christine Iloveserpentine


Here are some great links from Garry Hayes, Professor of Geology, Modesto Junior College, who's getting wiggy on the issue:

Garry Hayes’ blog
The history of SB624 is available here.

A good summary of serpentine with links to news and the debate can be found here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good Grief!

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

We took a day trip on Monday to the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, about 60 miles from San Francisco. We've been reading Benny a lot of "Peanuts" books lately, so we thought he'd like the trip.

It turned out to be a very relaxed, undemanding outing. There were no crowds and the museum felt like somebody's spacious home, complete with a little Video Nook, where people could watch films on beanbag chairs. We ate lunch in the sunshine outside the Warm Puppy Cafe and watched the Zamboni circle around Schulz's ice arena.

The day before we went to Golden Gate Park and listened to a local band play Fourth of July favorites play Gershwin and other old-fashioned favorites. We sat on the grass and ate ice cream bars and listened to John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Little Norman Rockwell outings like these are nice because they remind me that traveling doesn't have to be a Huge Big Deal all the time. Not even in California.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Vacation pictures!

(Click on the pictures to make them larger)

Top: Benny and his cousin Ian.

Bottom: Kris, Jackie and I in South Haven.

So we've returned from a great two weeks in Michigan visiting family. We rented a Kia with a messed-up rear window that made strange flapping sounds whenever we drove on the highway. We flapped all over Michigan, back and forth along I-94.

We started at my brother Andy's in Ann Arbor. Andy bought the house from us in 2008 and heavy rains in early June meant he had water on the side of the basement that didn't have the $4,000 drainage system Ron and I installed three years ago. I spent two days mopping the basement and playing "Civilization" with Benny on Andy's PlayStation 3.

Benny: "You're going to make me eat a pie?"

Then we hit the road to Kalamazoo, where Ron's brother and his family lived. Benny learned to play "Sorry" and beat everybody 10 times in a row.

We stayed at my sister Cindy's for a week. My mother came up from Indianapolis and my two college roommates visited with their families.

On the Friday before we flew back to San Francisco, we drove back along I-94 to Ann Arbor, trying to ourun a huge line of thunderstorms. The radar's yellow, black and red blotches covered Lake Michigan at one point and was heading east at 50 miles an hour. The weather in front of us was blue skies and sunshine. Then we'd look out our Kia's rear window and the sky was completely black.

We barely made it to Ron's brother's house before the deluge hit, where we waited out the worst of the storms. Then it was a long, tense drive home. I'm kinda happy to be home in San Francisco now, with its watercolor weather.

Top: Charlotte and Madeline.
Bottom: Benny and Sophie.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Goodbye Kindergarten

Benny and his teacher Miss Cathy

Benny's last few weeks of kindergarten were a bit — ahem! — lively: Ron and I ran around baking cakes for Funfest, writing checks for summer camps, chopping fruit for picnics, decorating teacher gifts, going to fundraiser parties and attending Miss Cathy's World Tour Slide Show.

On Benny's last day, I stayed at work until 8:30 p.m. to put a major project to press and prepare for vacation. The next day, we flew to Michigan.

I shouldn't have been surprised, because the craziness attending a child's last month of school is well-documented, most hilariously in Judith Warner's 2006 column "My Last Day of School." Moms were showing up at her daughter Emilie’s last-day-of-school party sobbing with stress. (“I hate this [expletive] time of year,” one mother said.)

But still, I was blindsided by the sudden activity. It was like the school took all the events they didn't have time for during the year and stuffed them into the last month. And I have little reason to complain, since I was the slacker mom who rarely helped in the classroom and didn't attend the School Talent Show OR the Parent Assembly (mostly because both events were on a workday morning).

I reason, however, that Benny has five more years at Lucky Elementary and the low standard I set last year should be easy to surpass. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying our summer schedule -- without an ironclad 7:50 a.m. start time, I've been late to work nearly every day.