Category Archives: Vacations

How NOT To Drive to Los Angeles

FinallycartoonDo any of you other married people have a random, sensitive topic you never bring up because you and your partner once had a huge fight about it and that weird fight came to symbolize all the ways you and your partner don’t see eye to eye?

Yeah, me too.

Only, it pertains to my first marriage. My husband John and I were both married before (no kids) and I think his trigger topic with his first wife was television medical dramas or home improvement shows or something because she was always buying sod in Tahoe and killing it.

My ex-husband and I, on the other hand, could never bring up:

The Best Freeway For Driving Between Northern And Southern California

A fact that my mischievous cousin Vanessa probably remembered, so when we were all siting in a hotel near Disneyland last week (more on that trip in future posts) and she casually mentions how her buddy Steve was arguing about why people shouldn’t take Interstate-5 to get to Los Angeles, I had to jump up and shout:

“WHAT?? I-5 is the ONLY sane way to get to Los Angeles and ONLY LUNATICS WOULD TAKE ANYTHING ELSE!”

Before launching into a history lecture about how I-5 was specifically built so the military could move weapons across the state and any other route takes forever… getting far too worked up about the best freeway to use because, well, this argument and I have a long history together.

Taboo Marriage Topics

See, I met my first husband in the Army during a youthful existential crisis where we were both learning Arabic. He was from Virginia whereas I’m a Northern California native who went to college in Los Angeles and therefore lived in Southern California for several years while regularly driving up north to visit family.

 

Well, imagine you’re a California native who is engaged to a Virginian who hasn’t set foot off the military base, yet keeps telling you Wrong Things About California. Like, that San Jose is part of San Francisco. Or that you should be calling it “Frisco.” (I had to refer him to Emperor Norton during that argument).

And further imagine that you’re getting ready to drive up north to your wedding rehearsal dinner, with your super-gay usher in the car (I’ll tell you more about him if you want), when said Virginian starts demanding you take US-101…

And you tell them NO, because you’ve made this drive a thousand times and truly know that I-5 is the better route. You keep pushing for I-5, yet they keep insisting on 101 and when you want to know why, you find out that their dad once had a business conference in California where someone told him that 101 is a prettier drive–a dad who never actually attempted I-5 but clearly must know better than you.

“Okay, so you know that I lived in Los Angeles and probably drove up north about once a month for several years, right? Don’t you think I’d have a better idea than someone who never even tried…”

“Well, my dad said it was better.”

“WHEN DO I EVER, EVER INSIST ON A ROUTE? DON’T YOU THINK I’D KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT?”

And it was true.

See, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. I have a HORRIBLE sense of direction and I completely accept that about myself.

People have different strengths and weaknesses, and finding my way around will NEVER be one of my strengths. My family tells funny stories about how I tried to drive to San Francisco in high school and ended up in a cornfield or whatever… in short, I know this and have made peace with it. My ego is completely disconnected from the art of knowing the best way to get to anywhere and I DO NOT BOAST about knowing any directions unless I’m 100% SURE.

But if I know any direction in the world, it’s that I-5 is the best way to drive to Southern California, because I’ve tried the other ways and have been stuck in a 21 hour-vs-6 in rush hour San Francisco traffic before.

I’ll probably be shouting as much to the convalescent home aids after Alzheimer’s has devastated 98 % of my brain: “TAKE I-5 TO GET TO LOS ANGELES BECAUSE IN ANYTHING ELSE, MADNESS LIES” as the nurses shake their heads: “She’s going off about Interstate 5 again…”

Because THAT fact may be the last one left standing.

No matter. My ex pulled out a map to show me how 101 parallels 5. He kept arguing about how his father’s casual overhearing of something should trump my actual, hands-on knowledge until I finally said:

“FINE. Let’s take 101.”

And of course, a more experienced man would’ve known that “fine” translates to a dare in the female universe. But we were kids at the time.

So the drive ended up taking twice as long.

We missed our wedding rehearsal.

We missed the rehearsal dinner.

I ended up in a hot tub in the middle of the night, drinking cheap wine out of paper cups with my gay friend, who kept asking me if I really planned to give up dating forever for a guy who kept insisting he could smell ozone and that San Jose was part of the greater San Francisco metropolitan area (allegedly mentioned in southern textbooks).

JUST LIKE 101 IS THE BEST WAY TO DRIVE TO LOS ANGELES, RIGHT??

Yeah, he kept correcting my knowledge about California until I was forced to pretend that dividing by zero is possible (“You’re dividing it by nothing, so it doesn’t divide. Five divided by zero is five!”) just to watch him freak out (this is what happens when nerd marriages go wrong).

And that’s the thing with these weirdly-sensitive arguments that never make sense to outsiders–they always represent something deeper.  In this case, his lack of respect for what I brought to the table and my pleasure at letting his doomed plans blow up.

But here’s the thing… turns out Vanessa’s friend Steve was arguing that 99 was the best route. He made some compelling arguments.

Compelling enough that John and I actually tried it. We drove home from Los Angeles using California State Route 99 as Satan ordered his minions to shovel all the snow inexplicably blanketing his domain.

And… it was… ahem

IMG_5535
(What passes for historical artifacts in California)

Roughly as good as taking I-5.

It took a little longer, but only about 20 minutes, and had more interesting shops and restaurants along the way.

In fact, we briefly fell into a time warp when the kids discovered old Coke machines and novelty soaps outside a unique antiques & snacks shop.

So… I was wrong. There IS another sane way to dive across California. 99 is a breath of fresh air after years of taking I-5.

But I’m STILL completely against 101 for interstate travel, despite the 40 minutes of prettier initial scenery before adding several hours to the trip.

And I won’t even talk about the Pacific Coast Highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Ways I Like To Pretend I’m Filthy Rich

“Gratitude is riches” -Doris Day

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re browsing your Facebook feed when you come across a bunch of photos of your friend Alex deep-sea diving in New Zealand. Why look, the whole family is there… all bronzed and smiling.

vacationYou’re happy for Alex. Really. Because Alex is your buddy and you think it’s awesome to go to New Zealand, just like it was awesome when he went to Copenhagen a few months back.

Not that you’d know, having never been to either place yourself. (You start counting the years since you’ve been on vacation…)

And then, before checking your bank account to make sure the Netflix charges cleared, you read about how Gwyneth Paltrow believes in steaming her hoo-ha before  advertising $900 casual slip-dresses made for 5’9” models with 32” chests on her website Goop, like these would be reasonable options for any normal person to consider.

Does it bug you? Does it bug you that it bugs you?

Well, don’t worry, because it’s completely normal. You see, researchers have found that money doesn’t buy happiness after all… unless we have more of it than our friends and colleagues do. We care most about how we’re doing compared to everyone else around us.

Which makes sense. I mean, if everyone in the village has two goats and your family has FOUR, then you’re probably feeling pretty successful and respect-worthy until someone in the village builds a skyscraper.

But that skyscraper family needs love too. Look,  I’m not trying to be intimidating, but I’ve  got some pretty impressive resources myself. I have assets that have only been available to an elite percentage of lucky people…

That is, as long as you’re counting all the people who have ever lived since the beginning of time. Which I am.

Laugh at my adorably child-like imagination if you must, but comparing myself to people who lived hundreds of years ago makes me feel a whole lot better than reading about the Kardashian sisters’ weekly armpit-bleaching (I may have made that last part up, but you get my drift).

Plus, it means feeling filthy rich every time that I:

1. Eat Oranges

My darling mother-in-law from North Carolina recently visited, seeing our new house for the very first time.

She was most gracious about it, but what seemed to truly impress her most was the orange tree we have in our backyard. Imagine seeing an orange tree through your bathroom window, she sighed wistfully.

Now, growing up near towns with names like “Citrus Heights” has left me somewhat oblivious to my backyard citrus privileges, but seeing her perspective helped me realize how unusual it actually is… Oh yeah, people used to receive oranges in Christmas stockings, back when they were an enormous deal because non-local goods were really expensive. 

In fact, Marie Antoinette, who’s the very symbol of whimsical decadence if anyone is, had orange trees from Spain and Portugal wheeled into the gardens of Versailles in planter boxes every morning from their warming rooms, as a statement of her fabulous access to luxury goods.

And here I am, staring at oranges from my bathroom window. Like a BOSS.

2.  Drink Hot Chocolate

History-of-chocolate-franceThe-Family-of-the-Duke-of-Penthièvre-tasse-du-chocolat-jean-paul-charpentierI like to start my day with a nice cup of hot chocolate, like it’s no big deal at all.

But this habit would’ve once pegged me as a pampered aristocrat.

 

Because chocolate used to be unbelievably expensive. The Aztecs believed it was a divine gift and used it for currency.

It first appeared at the French court of Versailles in 1666, during the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Versailles, of course, was world-renowned for ridiculous self-indulgences and nearly pornographic levels of luxury at the time.

And even THEY were impressed by chocolate. After Louis XIV’s married Marie Thérèse of Spain, who loved the stuff, the king granted the first chocolate manufacturer in France, David Chaillou, a monopoly, which kept chocolate unbelievably expensive for a very long time.

Yet here I am, starting each day with a heaping cup of chocolate, the 17th century equivalent of breakfasting on Beluga caviar sprinkled in gold dust while setting hundred dollar bills on fire.

3.  Pepper My Food

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is the dried spice everyone keeps in half of their salt and pepper shakers. Nowadays, it’s the bare minimum of any spice collection, something found on every table at any truck stop in any random backwater town.

But it used to be something only insanely wealthy people could afford to use.

In fact, the Dutch still use the expression “peperduur,” which means “pepper expensive,” to refer to outrageously costly things. It’s a holdover from earlier times, when pepper was literally more valuable than gold. It’s rumored that Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, and Attila, who ruled the Huns, both demanded ransoms of black pepper in exchange for stopping their attacks on Rome during the 5th century.

4.  Salt My Food

What-Salt-Bae-MemeThe word “salary” is actually derived from the word salt, coming from the Latin “salarium,” or “money to buy salt with.” Apparently, people used to picture incomes in terms of how much salt they could buy.

Salt is vital. It preserves food and makes it taste good. People care about it so much that salt taxes lead to revolutions… like how the French Gabelle led to the French Revolution, or how Gandhi’s defiance of the salt tax led to Indian independence from Britain.

Salt is sacred. Greek, Jewish, Catholics, Buddhists, Tibetans,followers of Shinto, Southwest Native Americans, and other religious groups historically involved salt in holy rituals.

And yet, I can boast an embarrassing wealth of saltiness. I have table salt, Kosher salt, and two kinds of sea salt at my disposal… I can throw salt into my baths, as well as on my food. I can buy a HUGE amount of salt, more salt than I could use in years, and I don’t even run around bragging about it.

5.  Flip On the Air-Conditioning

For most of human history, we’ve had to live in the elements the best that we could.

If it was snowing, we could build shelters, sew thick clothing, wrap ourselves in furs, or build a fire.

But if it was blisteringly hot, there wasn’t much we could do, except not wear a bunch of clothes (I’m talking to you, Victorian England).

Or we could buy ice.

Thing is, ice harvesting used to be extremely dangerous–huge blocks of ice could accidentally slide onto the workers and crush them–yet incredibly profitable. Ice merchants got rich during the 19th century, reaching peak competition in the 1860’s when the industry pulled in $28 million ($660 million in today’s terms).

Before that, there wasn’t much people could do to deal with the heat, apart from jumping in the lake or making someone wave a fan at you.

So whenever I flip on the air-conditioning, it’s basically the new world equivalent of filling the room with expensive ice cubes or having a team of servants waving a bunch of ostrich feathers in my face.

I should probably be reclining on a couch and eating grapes whenever I do it.

Don’t Hate

These are just a few of the ways I like to pretend I’m a powerful empress in the ancient world. Just think about how impressed medieval people would be if they travelled forward in time to behold the splendor of my lifestyle.

But don’t be jealous. You’re probably an aristocrat too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mommy Wars, “Me-ternity” Leave, and American Desperation

Lately, I’ve been thinking the term “Mommy Wars” is a bit of a misnomer.

Sure, there’s a lot of in-group bickering going on about stuff like using formula vs. breastfeeding, staying at home vs. going back to work, and whether we should be allowed to skip vaccinations.

But the term “mommy wars” makes it seem like we wouldn’t have parenting debates in America at all, if it weren’t for these endless, tedious catfights… as though parenting is somehow only a woman’s problem and we women just refuse to sort it out.

And I don’t get it.

Yes, biology means women have to deal with pregnancy and childbirth, but there is so much more to parenthood than that.

Weren’t all of us children once? Don’t children also have fathers? Even if we don’t all choose to be parents, doesn’t someone need to do it for our society, not to mention the human race, to exist?

I don’t believe the parenting problems in our country are caused by a bunch a disagreeable moms, but by a growing us vs. them mentality in general. The real hostility, in my opinion, exists between parents vs. non-parents.

I’ve been on both sides of this debate. Before having kids, it used to annoy me to hear them screeching on planes, in grocery stores, and in public places. I used to wonder why the world seemed to revolve around kids and why parents didn’t keep them under better control.

I had lots of ideas about what kind of parent I’d be if I ever became one, the kinds of reasonable solutions I’d have for every conceivable problem. When my kids acted up in the grocery store, for example, I’d threaten to march them out and drive straight back home if they didn’t straighten up and fly right.

And these reasonable solutions ALWAYS worked, of course, because they were imaginary. Scripted perfectly in my head.

Since having kids, I’ve had the chance to try these perfect solutions and watch them completely bomb. I’ve experienced the mortification of having your child come unglued when your grocery cart is packed full and nothing seems to calm them down, not food nor comfort nor changing nor distraction…

I’ve felt the hostile stares and seen the rolling eyes and panicked because there was no easy way out. We have to eat and there’s no food at home. The cart is full and I can either ditch it mid-aisle or try to get through the line as fast as possible. Threatening to leave is meaningless because the kids are too young to care.

Now that I’ve had children, I can’t believe how naive I used to be and feel terrible about any hard stare I ever gave a struggling parent on a crowded plane or in a packed grocery line.

My perspective has changed as I’ve felt the waves of palpable hostility coming from non-parents everywhere. Life isn’t a zero-sum game, so how did we end up on opposite teams?

For example, the blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat recently ran a rant about People Who Treat Their Dogs Like Children that exploded the comments section.

I’m an animal lover myself, but understood the point she was making: you may love your dog very much, but taking care of a dog in no way actually approximates the enormous investments required by parenting. You can’t leave your kid in the backyard with food while you go out, for instance, or put them up in a kennel while you’re on vacation.

As you’d expect, the comment section blew up with angry dog parents defending their relationships, but what shocked me most was the nastiness spewed toward human kids. Children were repeatedly called snot-nosed brats, inferior to puppies. Parents were called selfish, narcissistic monsters overburdening the planet with their vile offspring.

One woman talked about how upset she was when her four-month-old Yorkie was ran over, saying she didn’t think any parents would be that upset.

Reading that, I wished I could reach straight through the computer to choke her out. I love animals and have bawled for weeks over the loss of a beloved pet, but if something happened to one of my children? I don’t know how I could go on at all.

How did things get so ugly?

Some lady recently wrote an article for the New York Post about how she thinks women should be entitled to “me-ternity” leave without having to have kids. In her amazingly self-centered piece, she complains about how needing to have margaritas with her buddy is somehow not considered as sympathetic a reason to leave work on time as needing to pick up your kid from daycare.

Cue the parent vs. non-parent commenting outrage, with an added bonus of a bunch of guys explaining why her ludicrous argument justifies paying women less in general. Also, the author’s bizarre assertion that only women should be entitled to this so-called “me-ternity” leave, which seemed to undercut anything potentially salvageable about her argument in the first place.

The sad thing is, this shouldn’t be an us vs. them issue. We’re cannibalizing ourselves with these kinds of arguments.

Anyone who has stayed up for nights on end caring for a child who is projectile-vomitting every fifteen minutes won’t appreciate someone whining about their margarita needs not being met in a timely-enough fashion, yet there’s a larger argument about American work-life balance that is valid.

We have the longest working hours and shortest vacation time of any industrialized nation. Many Americans struggle to work multiple jobs to keep food on the table while suffering the uncertainties of inadequate healthcare and employment protections. We’re even afraid of taking the relatively low amount of paid leave to which we’re entitled, because we could get laid off or overlooked for promotion for doing so.

It makes perfect sense for American workers to be angry, to demand a better quality of life and more personal time. We’re completely out of step with our counterparts across the world and we have every right to demand better.

But in a nation with the worst infant and maternity mortality rates and parental leave options in the developed world, aiming your hostility at parents is the wrong way to go.

Folks without kids? We parents are not your enemy. We’re on the same side, or should be.

So I, for one, am vowing to never use the term “mommy wars” again. This isn’t about a bunch of prima donnas bickering for entitlements within the ranks of some special interest group.

And this isn’t about me expecting you to pick up the slack when my kid is in the hospital.

This is about everyone having a decent quality of life in a wealthy country, about having compassion for each other instead of fighting tooth-and-claw in some Ayn Rand-inspired nightmare. About having higher expectations than being used up for our production values then tossed aside.

The problem is not how we’re inconveniencing employers by having offspring. The problem is that the convenience of CEO’s seems to be our nation’s only priority.

Not you. Not us.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Pizza Box

So I’ve been at this parenting thing for four years now (five if you count pregnancy) and have to tell you:  it’s a demanding gig.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids to pieces, but it’s like doing a job you love while being on call 24/7, without weekends, vacations or sick leave. The fact that my children fill my life with heartwarming wonderment doesn’t meant I don’t long to sleep in every once in a while or pee by myself.

It’s especially rough when you’re trying hard to be a good parent, because 1) you never get any promotions, raises, or ego-boosting progress reports, and 2) no matter what you do, your choices WILL be criticized (“You actually let your daughter RUN AROUND WITHOUT SHOES? Well, with that kind of blatant disregard for social standards, I guess we’ll have YOU to thank for draining our tax dollars when she ends up in prison. Now ex-squeeze me while I spend my weekend dancing and drinking to oblivion while you’re scraping dried rice off the wall.”)

Sigh.

I had surgery recently. Nothing major or life-threatening, but it does mean I can’t use my shoulder muscles to pick up anything heavy for several weeks, which is a problem when you have two 30+ pound toddlers running around the house. I can’t lift them into car seats or grab them before they dive off the roof.

My parents have very generously offered to drop them off at preschool then look after them until my husband picks them up after work while I’m recovering.

So my kids are getting lots of grandma and grandpa time, which looks something like this:

cupcakes
There are lots of princess dresses and fancy cupcakes involved

 

It also means that I’m getting the first “Me-Time” I’ve had in 4+ years, unless you count those few days I was in the hospital squeezing out Bridget. Which I don’t.

And what does Me-Time look like?

It ain’t pretty, folks.

Normally, I’m the kind of mom that buys organic meat and vegetables for home-cooked meals that I expect everyone to sit down at the table to eat. Yes, THAT kind of mom.

I did pre- and post-natal yoga, breastfed and blended my own baby food (with dashes of cinnamon) and cook elaborate meals that my kids stare at as though expecting exploding worms to come wriggling out of them. I know my husband secretly thinks I’m crazy for all the effort and sometimes I suspect he’s right, especially when scraping said meals off the floor.

It’s a lot of work, so I was really looking forward to the break, when I would finally get a chance to meditate and exercise and read all of those good books that had been piling up. Because that’s what I thought my vacation would look like.

What does it actually look like? Me sleeping in late for two weeks straight while wearing sweats, popping painkillers, and cramming rice krispie squares into my face-hole.

chocolat
My week looked like this

Yep, you read that right. This has been a nonstop slumming marathon of Doc Martin episodes, video games and leftover Halloween candy.

Also writing. As a freelance writer, I’m always trying to stuff paragraphs in-between colorful episodes of child whimsy, so I was looking forward to writing without distraction.

Instead, I’ve ended up blogging every day because it’s fun.

So fun, in fact, that when my stomach starts making outrageous demands about getting something to eat, it really ticks me off.

I’m in The Zone.  I’m emptying out this emotional backlog and don’t want to stop what I’m doing for tedious crap like feeding myself. Know your place, belly. Don’t tell me what to do.

When my brain starts getting foggier and head begins to pound, though, I realize I have to do something. But I can’t be bothered to do anything as elaborate as smearing peanut butter on a slice of bread. Instead, I end up grabbing sodas or leftover snickerdoodles because they mean quick sugars, the fastest route to shutting my stomach the hell up, with the least effort.

It’s been ugly, like that scene in Chocolat where the Mayor is all Puritanical about chocolate-eating until he loses his sh1t one night and is discovered in the chocolate shop window the next morning, passed out and smeared in chocolate.

So today, feeling a little guilty about treating my body like a back-alley dumpster, I decided to step things up a notch by heating up some frozen food for lunch. Digging through our freezer, I discovered some stuff my husband bought for quick meals.

redbaron.jpg
Pizza for aviators

I decided on a bunch of Red Baron mini pepperoni pizzas (made with pork, chicken, AND beef) and figured I’d take the high road by actually heating them up in a conventional oven instead of popping them in the microwave like an animal.

 

I flipped the box over to read the instructions, whereupon the box told me to slap the pizzas on a cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for 16 to 18 minutes. But here’s the thing: it says I can cook four pieces at a time OR the full eight pieces.

What kind of control-freak crap is this, pizza box?

Cooking four is okay. Cooking eight is okay.

But five? SIX?

In six lies madness.

Don’t tell me what to do, pizza box.

 

 

 

Trip to Monterey; My Kids vs. The Army

Beach family
Beach family

For my birthday this year, we decided to take a trip to Monterey with the kids. It was an interesting experience for me, since I hadn’t been there in over a decade. Not since I was in the US Army, studying Arabic…

The surroundings seemed very surreal, foreign yet strangely familiar. It was a whole different life, a whole different marriage… When you keep visiting a place, the place grows with you. You make new memories and form new impressions. But sometimes when you, say, hear music or smell a scent you haven’t experienced in years, old memories come crashing back. You remember the feel, the atmosphere, and many of the thoughts that used to spin in your mind when you last roamed this environment, heard the song, or smelled the perfume… it’s as though you revisit an old self in a dream, but with your present self.

Looking at the beach, I suddenly remembered how every Friday was the “Fun Run,” AKA the day we ran on the beach (most soldiers were suckered in by the marketing, but I knew running on the beach is just HARDER). I saw Compagno’s Market and suddenly remembered how we would drop by for Meatball Subs, handwritten sandwich descriptions on the wall. I saw fish murals lining the highway and the occasional soldier dressed in his BD Uniform walking up stark hills with the perfect posture that comes from constant formation line-ups. I remembered all the fun nights at the American Legion (no one can blow off steam like a soldier in training), and regretted that I couldn’t visit the base. I’m sure more memories I would never otherwise remember would crop up if I could only stroll the grounds…

How different the place seems when you are just a tourist. Suddenly, it’s a happy beach town packed with John Steinbeck references. We strolled along Cannery Row before heading to the beach, where our daughters encountered the ocean for the very first time.

That was amazing. Brontë giggled and ran back and forth chasing seagulls, racing into the water and squealing back onto shore as the icy waves tingled her feet. Bystanders couldn’t help but chuckle at her loud, unbridled enthusiasm. How incredible everything seems to my daughter… the feel of the sand, the sounds of the ocean, the scattering sea gulls racing about the sand… it’s all so new and real and powerfully raw to children.

When do we lose that enthusiasm? How do we get it back? It may be cliche, but seeing the world through your child’s eyes reminds you how stunning our universe is, even the simple things that we adults have long taken for granted.

Bridget can’t walk yet, so she was sadly unable to race around the beach with her sister, but she seemed happy enough squeezing wet sand through her fingers. Kids live in the moment. The aren’t worried about what they need to accomplish, or what time it is, or what someone else will think of their behavior. They can just sit there, feeling the sun on their backs, the cool water splashing on their bare toes, and wet sand squeezing through their little fingers.

We then went to the kitschy little Monterey history wax museum at Cannery Row. For a modest fee, you go underground to see a bunch of fun wax figures that appear to be unchanged since about 1955, as well as the sentiments.

Many of the early exhibits show Conquistadors conquering the Natives in the Monterey area and establishing the early capitol of California (did you know Monterey used to be the capitol of California?). They depict a Spanish class of elite overlords with Native American slave labor… whipped, forcibly converted to Christianity, and otherwise treated like crap. The Spanish conquerors sure seem to have been bastards. Are we allowed to say that? Do they count as conquering Europeans in this case, or as part of Latin/Catholic history that I, as a descendent of WASP’s, should be reluctant to judge? I’m feeling white guilt confusion. Either way, the natives got a pretty raw deal.

Then we learned about how sardines used to be the “in” fish to eat in America. This was the heyday of Monterey’s canning operations, the setting of John Steinbeck’s novel. I guess canned tuna hit the market eventually and America dropped sardines like bell-bottems in the 1980’s. Monterey’s canning industry never recovered.

The kids couldn’t follow the history yet, of course, but they liked all the dolls dressed up in vintage costumes.

Finally, we went to the aquarium. It’s an amazing place, packed with more types of fish than I ever knew existed. The penguin tank was delightful. The hagfish was fascinating… also known as the “slime eel,” the hagfish is a primitive fish with five hearts and no eyes. They squirt a sticky sugar slime as a defense mechanism.

The hag fish truly seems like it should’ve been weeded out by newer evolutionary models, but since they are still around, I guess it’s a solid design.

I’ve included a photo I took from the second level of a massive fish tank. It’s a palimpsest–underneath the photo people is a fish exhibit…

The human animal at play, taking photos.
The human animal at play, taking photos.

After a long, wonderful day, we bundled the kiddos up and drive back to Sacramento. I’m a little surprised I hadn’t visited since my Army days, given that it’s only a few hours away. But then again, maybe I hadn’t wanted to revisit my Army days.

I think seeing Monterey through my children’s eyes was tremendously healing. Instead of the pressure, the fear, the uncertainty, this time I only saw the peaceful ocean, the scattering birds, and the warm sand.