Home For The Holidays, Part II: Merry and Bright

On Christmas morning I experienced my first-ever Catholic Mass. I enjoyed it a lot. I was glad to be there with friends who helped me navigate through the service, though, because I would have been lost on my own.

That afternoon and evening we attended a family Christmas party, where I had the surreal experience of watching a nanobug escape from its habitrail and scurry into a hole in the wall. It became trapped just out of reach, where it buzzed, loudly and indignantly, for the rest of the night. First world problems, man. But the party was great, nanobug infestations notwithstanding.

The following evening my friends and I rode atop a 1950s British double-decker bus on a tour of neighborhood Christmas lights.


The bus is owned by a mortuary, and bore this reassuring notice:


The tour was amazing. We stopped and sang “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” outside a few of the best-decorated homes.



The bus went all the way down to the Mission Inn in Riverside, where it parked for an hour while we wandered around admiring the lights and festivities.










We sang every Christmas carol we could think of, all the way down to Riverside and all the way back up. People on the streets waved and honked and called “Merry Christmas!” to us, and we waved and shouted it back to them. The whole thing was wonderful fun.

Next up: my geocaching adventures!

Categories: Christmas, Friends, Humor, Life, Music, Travel | Leave a comment

City Gardens

No school today, so the kids and I decided to visit the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. It’s the first time we’ve ventured back into downtown Fort Worth since Luke’s birthday trip to the Science Museum, mostly because I am intimidated by the DFW freeway system.

When I first moved here I said that if I ever mastered these freeways I would never fear any kind of city driving ever again. Now, seven weeks later, it’s more accurate to say that I’ve gotten really good at NOT using the freeways. I know all the ways to get where I need to go without ever touching an onramp. It’s sheer cowardice, but I’m okay with that.

It wouldn’t be so bad it you could just hop onto a freeway and get to where you want to be. But there are SO MANY freeways, and they come together and merge and entwine and separate like a series of snake orgies. One moment of inattention or confusion and you’re shunted off in the wrong direction on an unfamiliar roadway. The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is less than 20 miles from where we live, and to get there we had to navigate these four interchanges (it would have been five but I bypassed the first one):





I come from a town with one highway and no stoplights. Even driving to LA or San Diego was a fairly straightforward (albeit slow and crowded) business. This snarl of Metroplex freeways is alien to me.

But today we girded our loins and headed back into the heart of the city. And it was totally worth it, because the Botanic Gardens are amazing.



If you ever visit the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens and you wonder whether it’s worth paying extra to see the Japanese Garden, the answer is yes.



Yes it is.



All of the gardens are beautiful, but the Japanese Garden is stunning.



There are koi food dispensers along the paths, and whenever you get near the water a galloping horde of hopeful koi appears.



The Japanese Garden was our favorite, but all of the gardens are worth visiting.


I found this near the Conservatory. I think it’s a pretty good arboreal representation of the DFW freeway system:


When we had seen everything there is to see at the Botanic Gardens we still had a good chunk of afternoon left, so we decided to go check out the Water Gardens.


The Water Gardens are kind of surreal. They’re designed to resemble a wilderness of canyons, mountains, lakes and rivers, represented in stark, geometric lines.



The active pool is energetic and exciting.



The quiet pool evokes a sense of standing in a wooded canyon near a serene lake.


The aerated pool was the least interesting to us. I get what they were going for, but it didn’t really speak to us like the others did.


Got mildly lost on the way home, trying to navigate my Apple Maps directions in reverse. By then I was in too good a mood to be bothered by it, though. Eventually I will master these freeways, because the alternative is missing out on too many of the incredible things that the Metroplex has to offer.

I freaking love this place.

Categories: environment, Family, Gardening, Humor, kids, Life, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Storming The Castle

Yesterday the kids and I went to Castle Park in Riverside for Luke’s birthday. He won’t officially turn twelve until next week, but the Castle will be switching over to their fall (well, school year) schedule next week so this was our last chance to catch the summer hours/rides.

The scorching heat kept the crowds away, so we didn’t have to stand in a single line all day. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Elizabeth was the only one of us with the intestinal fortitude to ride Fireball.

…Twice in a row.

They’ve added a water park since the last time I was at the Castle, and that’s where all the people were. Next time we’ll bring bathing suits and spend more time splashing around.

I was a little disappointed to see that the actual Castle building itself has suffered a decline in artsy ambience. The upstairs is closed off now; when I asked an employee she said it had been converted to offices. And the awesome old medieval decor downstairs was traded in at some point for just cramming as many arcade games into every square inch as could possibly fit. There were still air hockey and skeeball though (and air conditioning!) so we did spend a little time inside.

But where Castle Park really shines is in its miniature golf courses.

Sadly my favorite course was closed yesterday, but the one we played was almost as fun.

Confession: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of youngsters in general. But I love hanging out with these three in particular. They’re smart and funny and fun and nice.

Elizabeth’s favorite ride was the flying saucer. I didn’t think to get a pic of it because it doesn’t look like much from the outside. Riders walk into a UFO-shaped structure and stand against padded walls. There are no restraints, and none are needed. The saucer starts to spin, faster and faster, and centrifugal force makes the padded sections of wall slide up, with the people pressed flat against them so their feet leave the floor. I’ve ridden it before but I didn’t yesterday, because my 43-year-old stomach can’t handle the spinny rides the way it used to. Emma and I waited outside while Luke and Elizabeth tried it for the first time. We both marveled at how fast it was spinning. “It looks like one of those…what are they called?” I asked Emma.

“Those things they use to train astronauts for zero G?”

“No, the tiny things that scientists use in labs.”

“A centrifuge?”

“That’s it! How do those things work, anyway?”

Emma gave me a tidy little discourse on how and why a centrifuge can separate blood cells from plasma and so on. It was awesome. Even the ride operator was listening in. When Luke and Elizabeth stumbled out of the UFO we asked them if their blood cells were all separated from their plasma now. They said it was entirely possible. And for the rest of the day Elizabeth couldn’t stop talking about how amazing and mysterious centrifugal force is. And the thing is, I know very few adults with whom I can have those kinds of conversations and make those kinds of jokes. I do know a few, and treasure their friendship with all my heart, but why aren’t there more grownups who manage to bring their wonder and whimsy and uncomplicated enjoyment of life with them into adulthood?

Anyway, we had a ridiculous amount of fun yesterday. Happy almost-birthday, Luke! You’re one of the coolest kids I know, and I love you like crazy.

Categories: Birthdays, Family, Friends, Humor, kids, Life, Love | 6 Comments

Our Grand Adventure, Part III

Part I

Part II


Monday’s hike was my favorite part of the whole trip: we travelled west from the Village along the Rim Trail to a spot called Hermit’s Rest about 7 miles away. Some of the group opted to take the shuttle, which ran on a separate road not far from the trail and stopped at eight big overlook points along the rim before stopping at Hermit’s Rest and looping back to the Village. There were ten of us that chose to walk, and it was a fun group. The trail was pretty and the views were amazing; it was just a great hike.

We ended up taking a shuttle the last three miles or so to Hermit’s rest, where we found an old (built in 1904) structure that had been converted into a gift shop and snack bar. Underneath all the modern clutter the primitive design was wonderful.

And now it was afternoon, and the one thing no one wanted to do was risk missing the train back to Williams, so we caught a shuttle back to the Village. The kids and I collected our carry-on stuff from the Lodge and then walked along the Rim Trail back toward the depot. We’d given ourselves plenty of time, so we stopped for ice cream along the way.

Luke had been wanting to look inside the Hopi House (like Hermit’s Rest it was built in 1904, designed by Mary Colter and eventually converted into a gift shop) ever since we’d arrived in the Village, so we stopped there next and had a look around. It was two stories high and crammed full of shiny merchandise, but the structure itself looked like a house I could see myself living in. It reminded me of my grandfather’s simple and beautiful hand-built shack, but with more fireplaces.

And then it was time to head down to the train depot…

…and settle in for the ride back to Williams.

We saw deer and elk from the train, but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to catch them.

At one point we were overtaken and boarded by armed bandits.

They did a bit of comedy schtick that was pretty funny even to a cantankerous old fart like myself. The three of them came down the aisle demanding “money, jewels and prized possessions” from random passengers, mostly focusing on kids. When the first guy got to me and Luke, my boy dramatically turned his pockets inside-out to demonstrate his possessionless condition. While I was still laughing at that, the big gunman moved to the seats behind us, and I heard him suddenly exclaim in genuine surprise and bafflement, “She hissed at me!” I looked back and saw Elizabeth clutching her beloved picture of Espio to her chest and looking like the first robber that tried to lay a hand on her “prized possession” might lose it at the wrist. The bandit moved on without another word, and I didn’t blame him.

Sometime after the train robbers had left the car, Fiddle Guy returned. He told all the same jokes and played all the same bits of music as he had on Sunday, and they were still lame.

We rolled into the Williams Depot around 5:45pm, bought an obligatory Grand Canyon Railway Christmas ornament and a tee-shirt, and loaded up the Saturn for the long drive home.

I made one big mistake on this outing, and that was not printing out the driving instructions in BOTH directions. I didn’t think about it until we were already in Arizona, and then I figured it wouldn’t really matter because I could just follow my printed instructions except in reverse. The trouble was that without actual exit names and numbers, it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Specifically, it turns out that there is more than one way to get from I-40W to US-95S, and I managed to take the wrong one. By the time I’d realized my mistake I figured I might as well just keep going, since I knew I had to be on the 95 eventually anyway. The worrisome thing was, there was no sign of civilization for miles and miles and the AZ/CA border did not appear to be anywhere near where we’d left it on our way to Williams. I confess, I was beginning to quietly freak out a little. But Luke and Elizabeth responded to the situation with a combination of stoic acceptance and cheerful sense of adventure, and pretty soon we were making jokes about finally making it across the Arizona border only to find ourselves in New Mexico. If I have to be lost in the middle of nowhere, my kids are the people I want to be lost with.

Eventually we reached a town, and I stopped at a gas station to fill up and find out where the hell we were in relation to the border. So that’s when I found out that my poor choice of exits had brought us to Lake Havasu, well north of where we should have been, but that staying on the 95 was still our best bet. We eventually crossed the border in Parker and got back to Anza without any further incidents. The next day I google-mapped our detour and learned that I’d inadvertently added about 150 miles to our journey home. The baffling part was that it didn’t really take us that much longer at all. We left Williams at about 6:30 Monday afternoon and were home by 1am Tuesday morning, so about 6.5 hours. According to Google it should have taken over nine hours to travel home the way we did. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

[EDIT: And now that I’ve had more sleep and checked the route again, ACCURATELY this time, I see that my improvised route only added about 15 miles to the trip. That would explain why it didn’t take us much longer. Whew.]

We slept like dead people, but surprisingly had no trouble getting up the next morning and getting the kids off to school. As eventful and sleepless as our outing had been, it left us more energized than exhausted.

I’ll say it again: the Grand Canyon is amazing. It really is one of the great wonders of the natural world, something everyone should see at least once. The kids haven’t stopped talking about it since we got back.

Still…it’s good to be home.

Categories: Family, Friends, Humor, kids, Life, Love, Road trip, Travel | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Our Grand Adventure, Part II

Read Part I Here

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is at 7000ft elevation. The weather was as perfect as it possibly could have been for hiking, but the thinner atmosphere meant that temps dropped below freezing at night and then warmed back up when the sun rose. It was strong, high-altitude sunshine, so even though the official high said 60º in the shade, it felt like 75º in direct sunlight. Wearing layers was key. That first day at the Canyon was when I realized that early October is a much better time time to visit than December: we would have been freezing our behinds off if we’d stuck to the original plan!

Sunday afternoon we met up with the other group members that wanted to hike along the Rim Trail east of the Village. Despite the altitude and not having slept much for the past two nights, the kids and I were bouncy with energy and eager to keep moving.

Once Elizabeth got past her initial amazement at the sheer enormity of the thing, she quickly transitioned to finding places where there was no railing or barrier between the trail and the abyss, and then finding a rocky outcropping to stand on where a fall would mean certain death, and then going out and standing on it, thusly:

I still haven’t decided whether I’m a bad parent for allowing this, or a good parent for encouraging her to live life to the fullest. Twenty years from now I’ll know which one it was, I suppose.

Luke found the Canyon actively intimidating. He was fine as long as there was a nice sturdy railing or wall between himself and the drop, but he wanted nothing to do with the unshielded outcroppings. I actually have very few pictures of Luke near the rim, and in the ones I do have he’s either on the safe side of a railing or wall (and if the wall is too low he still looks uncomfortable)…

…or there’s no barrier and I have a casual death grip on him to keep him in the photo.

Anyway. After the hike on Sunday we checked into our rooms to clean up for dinner. The group had reservations in the Arizona Room at Bright Angel Lodge, but it (and every other restaurant in the Village) was so crowded that we ended up waiting for an hour in the bitterly cold dark before our table was ready. The food was good though, and the portions were so huge that the kids and I took half our meals back to our room with us and had them for breakfast the next morning. And as we walked back to Maswik Lodge that night a small herd of deer walked fearlessly past us to graze on the Bright Angel lawns. I wish I’d had my camera with me, but I hadn’t brought it to the restaurant.

Again, some of us were ready for bed earlier than others. The kids and I were sound asleep by the time our roommate returned. This time I was so tired that I woke up briefly when she came in and immediately went back to sleep. But at some point after that she actually woke me up on purpose to ask me something. I was so groggy I barely remember it, but (as I learned the next morning) apparently she had become separated from the people she was walking back to the Lodge with, and while she was alone she had come across an elk, and the experience had unnerved her, and she felt the need to recenter herself with some Buddhist chants, and APPARENTLY I told her that would be fine. So, yeah. Chanting. In the wee hours of the morning. Even Elizabeth couldn’t sleep through that. It seemed to go on for hours, although it was probably more like thirty minutes. When she finally stopped and went to bed I fell asleep so fast that I never even heard the snoring, but apparently Luke wasn’t so fortunate: once again he didn’t get much sleep.

To describe Luke as “surly” the next morning would be a considerable understatement. As ordered, he did not say anything to our roommate, but once we were away from her and out with the group members who were hiking with us that day he complained bitterly about every little thing, and the unfairness of life in general. For the first hour or so he was just not much fun to be around.

But. Monday’s hike turned out to be insanely fun. We were following the Rim Trail to the west this time, which was woodsier and less populated, and led to a series of breathtaking vistas. Even poor sleep-deprived Luke eventually recovered his good spirits in the evergreen-scented air, and he fell in with a younger boy from our group who also liked to keep a healthy distance from steep drops. They kept each other company, while Elizabeth and I spent the day terrifying each other by walking out onto increasing dangerous rocky outcroppings.

The West Rim Trail also offered wonderful views of the Village.

And this is getting pretty long, so I think I’ll stop here and continue tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Read Part III Here

Categories: Family, Friends, Humor, kids, Life, Love, Road trip, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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