Friday, July 17, 2009

Road trip - Part IV

There were a couple of snafus during our journey, none of which were incredibly painful. The day after our Six Flags outing, we were planning to go to the Santa Barbara Zoo. We left the hotel at 9:15 am and headed out only to realize we had neither directions nor map.

I called the hotel for directions while my partner negotiated the highway signs in an attempt to get us on the correct course. We had just passed the turn off suggested by the desk clerk at the hotel so I hung up and we got off at the following exit to turn around. At the end of the exit ramp, we found ourselves on Zoo Dr. Serendipity.

Following the signs, we meandered down Zoo Dr. for little more than 5 minutes until we reached the parking lot of the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. The kids asked if we were in Santa Barbara. For a moment they were disappointed until I told them that this zoo was much bigger and had big cats, which the Santa Ba
rbara Zoo doesn't have. We parked in the shade, put sunscreen on the kids and made for the gate. We arrived 10 minutes before the zoo opened so everything worked out great.

The zoo is also a botanical garden so there were many lovely bushes and trees in bloom. I looked at a few name plaques but keeping up with the kids (fonts of information about animals of all sorts!) and reading the information on the animals we were viewing was quite enough. I do wonder about the effects of the non-native plants in the collection.

The zoo is nicely laid out. Newer displays are impressive while a few of the older habitats, particularly for the jaguar, are sadly antiquated. It's apparent that the elephant environment will be a site to behold when it's complete. When I think of zoos, I always think of The Life of Pi - great book.

Among the favorite displays of the day were the koala, kimodo dragon, chimpanzee, orangutan, giraffe, tiger and kangaroo. There were a few critters I had never heard of, including: echidna, siamang (I thought it was a howler monkey but those were in a different habitat), babirusa, takin and serow. And while I have seen many tapirs, I don't recall seeing furry ones.

The aviary was nifty but stinky. The kids moved a little too fast to see any of the birds but I managed to spot at least five amid the trees and bushes.

It was very warm so we took advantage of the misting fans around the zoo at every opportunity. There was plenty of shade and lots of benches. The crowd was fairly small when we arrived but as the day wore on, it grew though not unbearably. We didn't have to wait for viewing at most habitats and got seats at the chimpanzee habitat immediately.

On the way out, the kids wanted one more mist so they went with their father while I went into the gift shop and got a floaty pen for my collection. I got to the car in time to open the windows and turn on the air so we wouldn't turn into fruit roll ups. As soon as everyone had drinks and buckled up, we were on the road for home.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Road trip - Part III

We arrived at Six Flags just about opening time. It was already warm and sunny so the kids were covered with sunblock and we headed for the tram stop. Maybe it was due to the economy, maybe it was because it was a weekday, maybe most people went to the water park, whatever it was, the lines for the rides were so short, we rode on some multiple times before moving to the next.

We started easy with the carousel and then took the tram up the hill a
nd rode the first roller coaster of the day, the Goldrusher. We did that three times. After that it was a mad rush; Tidal Wave, Grinder Gearworks (we used to call it Roundup), Riddler's Revenge (coaster), Batman, a stop at the petting zoo, Sierra Falls (a raft ride in a tube in the Looney Tunes section...it was fun!) and Log Jammer. Alex managed to do a couple of other coasters as my partner and I shared ride duties. By 3:00 pm, we had done one large loop of the park. It was getting hot and we were hungry so we went back to the hotel for lunch and a dip in the pool.

When we returned at about 5:30, we started with five rides on the Ninja (coaster) followed by Roaring Rapids. While we got wet, it was really fun to watch the other folks on our raft get drenched! Next was Terminator Salvation. The line was the worst, about 40 mins. The roller coaster was good but we couldn't afford to do it again. We later learned it was a new ride, hence the crowd.

We did Colossus a couple of times. During the ride, I looked over
at the little one; her jaw was clenched and she was sitting upright as she gripped the bar. After the ride, I asked her how she was and she said, "I want my mommy" followed by, "I want to do it again!" Definitely the best wooden roller coaster I've ever experienced.

Chair swings, called Swashbuckler and the pirate ship called Buccaneer were easy on and off rides. We ran over to the Looney Tunes area to see if Sierra Falls was still open. It wasn't. Then we decided to separate to complete our missions; Alex wanted to go on another roller coaster and Claire had other ideas. Both of them were fading so we had to move fast. Alex and I did Riddler's Revenge and the Batman ride again. With 25 minutes to go, we stood between X2 and Viper. We decided on Viper. There was absolutely no line and it was absolutely crazy. We passed on a second ride. Then we stood in line for the X2 until we rounded a corner and saw about 200 people in front of us. We bailed. Earlier in the evening, we had decided that the Tower would be our last ride; it was closed. At this point, 10 minutes before closing, the kids decided that was it (!?!?!).

Phew! What a day. It was really fun. Minor meltdown before return to hotel but otherwise, all was well. Oh, we bought one souvenir cup that was refillable. We had unlimited Powerade, lemonade, pink lemonade and 7-up all day. That was the best idea ever!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Road trip - Part II

I checked into the hotel while my partner went to get his kids. We stayed at Circus Circus for the night. The rooms in the Tower were nicer than those in the Manor, but we preferred the set-back location with direct access to the room as opposed to walking through casinos, gift shops and smoking areas.

The kids arrived with pizza. We ate and watched TV while the 7-year old raced between rooms and, playing with the key cards,
entered both rooms from the hallway. After baths, they were packed into bed for story time. I fell asleep listening to their giggles as their dad fluffed-up the text of whatever book he was reading.

In the morning, we ate breakfast, checked out and, while he took the kids for one ride in the Adventuredome, I walked around one of the gift shops and wondered - do people really buy this stuff? Then we started our 4.5 hour drive to LA.

We arrived in Venice without much difficulty. There was a little traffic, but not bad for LA. The kids were mostly well-behaved - there was a little tiff about who got to rea
d the Calvin and Hobbs book. We pulled up at my sister's apartment and after an introduction of all family members to the resident pug, they headed for the beach and I hung out with sis for a couple of hours. I've been to Venice many times and highly recommend walking the beach, checking out the flea market and strolling around the canals, but for today, I was on a mission to catch up with my younger, pregnant sister.


Before checking into our hotel for the night, we had dinner at Govinda's, a restaurant housed at the ISKCON Temple in LA. It was perfect. The food was delightful ($7 buffet for adults, $5 for children) and the momentary peace of the Temple gave me a sense of balance I felt for the remainder of the evening.
The chanting is always uplifting. The message I heard from the talk: Do what you love and do it for Krishna. Write, dance, sing, make art. I can easily exchange Krishna for God or Life or simply say "do it with a heart full of joy."

En route to Valencia, my partner and I talked Top 100 Riffs and Top 100 Guitar Solos as we crawled through traffic on the 5 at 8:30 at night. The kids watched movies on movie players with hard drives that they call gizmos. As we drove passed the Getty Museum; I made a mental note that someday, I will visit the place.

We checked into our room at around 9:00 and settled in fast. We had a big day planned the following day - Six Flags Magic Mountain. This amusement park has a ridiculous number of roller coasters (~14) and it's our goal to make the most of our one day visit, so off to bed we went.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Road Trip - Part I

Last week, we drove to Las Vegas to pick-up the kids. We got on the road at about 10:00 am and arrived in Las Vegas at about 7:00 pm. The drive took us through various mountain ranges, valleys, forests and towns that make up Southern CA.

Driving through San Juan Bautista and over Pacheco Pass provides a lovely view of the San Luis Reservoir and a scenic transition from the Central Coast to the San Joaquin Valley, the Lettuce Bowl of the US. The water level of the reservoir was extremely low. In the photo to the left, the green area in the foreground should be covered with water. The water from this reservoir comes from the Sacramento Delta and is fed into the California Aqueduct for irrigation.

The array of fruits and vegetables we saw on this trip was astounding. From blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and peaches to lettuce, cauliflower, radicchio, tomatoes and green peppers, we saw it all, or at least we thought we did as some of it was not identifiable at 55+ mph. While approaching a stop sign somewhere, the air was perfumed with cilantro; so fresh and sweet, we just about got out of the car to pick ourselves a salad!

Peach Grove near Bakersfield

After refueling in Bakersfield, we continued through the Tahachapi Mountains. The Tahachapi Wind Farm lines Tahachapi Pass, the connection between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. As you drive through the pass, the windmills dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. This is the second largest wind farm in CA and wind power provides 1% of all CA electricity. I have heard that bats can't sense the blades and that birds are injured in collisions with the windmills but that engineers are working to make this type of power generation less dangerous to these creatures. I hope they succeed.

Tahachapi Wind Farm

The Mojave Desert is vast and seemingly desolate until you see military aircraft fly overhead.
Further research informs me that the desert covers not only a large part of Southern CA but that nearly all of Nevada is in the Mojave Desert and that the desert boundaries are defined by the presence of the Joshua Tree.

As we move further into the desert we see mining facilities in the distance, approach 20 Mule Team Road and, finally, see a sign for Borax. Evidently, the world's richest deposits of borax are in the Mojave Desert and mined for cleansers and other household products. I've used some of these products.

Passed Barstow to the Nevada border, the road climbs in ascent to the high desert plain on which Las Vegas sits. It's hot, it's dusty. The car motor revs to maintain cruz control speed while climbing to 3,000, and then 4,000 feet. In the distance, I see a mirage. It has a roller coaster. My partner explains that it's actually Primm Valley at the Nevada border. There's a golf course, a few hotels and casinos and a small amusement park. Huh. I'm not into superfluous use of resources, so I'm not impressed. Forty miles to Vegas - the journey continues.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fitter, Faster, Stronger

Fitter, Faster, Stronger; one of my new affirmations for running. As of late, I've been doing most of my workouts on the treadmill. Basically, it's just more convenient but running for over an hour proves challenging. During one of my recent runs I had to remind myself why I'm doing it. This affirmation is my answer; because I want to be fitter, faster, stronger.


To enhance my training prgram, I've started going to the track. I'm new to tracks, but as tracks go, this one is great. As I run around the oval, I look out over a small ridge to another in the distance and when I make the turn, I'm surrounded by the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell, used for training by the school's cross-country team.

In the morning, the sun comes up over the ridge in the distance and warms the air quickly so starting early is imperative. Usually, there are other people running or walking on the track. Now that school is out, it's generally serene except for the occasional flock of crows fighting over garbage.

At the track, I continue my fitter, faster, stronger regimen, my goal being to utilize the facility during the summer break to attain a higher level of fitness. I have about 7 weeks and I'm doing things I've never done before. I'm also experiencing aches like I never have before. So, I just keep reminding myself why I'm doing it: to be fitter, faster, stronger!

Oh, and when I need inspiration I watch this performance by a local runner, Maggie Vessey, at the Prefontaine Classic. Hopefully, she'll make it to Berlin for the World Championships. You go, girl!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Medicinal Herbs and Edible Natives

Last weekend, we attended The Smart Gardening Faire at Skypark in Scotts Valley. There were about 20 tents filled with native plants, medicinal plants, orchids, gopher control solutions, hand-crafted goods and other things garden-related. There were also two tracks of presentations on topics such as cooking with native plants, composting and bee-keeping.


I sat in on a presentation on edible native plants. The speaker, Alrie Middlebrook from the California Native Garden Foundation, talked about several commonly known edibles such as mushrooms, blackberries and a variety of nuts but also espoused the importance of native varieties because of the impact on the soil (microbes) that non-natives have (could I give up jasmine?).

Other edibles mentioned included huckleberry, elderberry flowers and fruit and pine nuts. She informed us that the pine nuts we buy at TJ's come from South America but there are two varities in CA that can be easily harvested.

After picking out an orchid at the SC Orchid Society's table and admiring the bonsais at Pet Plants Bonsai, we talked to the gopher control folks at Gophers Limited (ha ha). Then we were off on an herb walk lead by Darren Huckle.

Mr. Huckle is really knowledgeable and gave me the sense that he is a great healer. He had us eat lavender flowers (calms) and fennel (stimulates the liver) and talked about making tinctures or teas from stinging nettle, California poppies (for relaxing) and the flowers of the mimosa tree.

I'm always looking for natural remedies that are easily accessible. Based on his presentation, I will likely add yarrow and stinging nettle to my future garden as replacements to store-bought goldenseal and arnica. I have already started a lavendar plant, having cut a few sprigs from a park in SC and sticking them about 5' in the ground. Two have rooted and are going strong. If I can come up with a replacement to store-bought lavender oil, I'd be thrilled! So much to learn.