Celebrating Solstice

Every year the kids’ school spends the week before Winter Break in a flurry of activities that culminate in what is simply known by the school community as Solstice. Each grade presents a song or a poem or a dance; something to celebrate the lengthening of days and return of the sun. It’s a proud moment for parents at every grade.

This year was even more so… Audrey played in her marimba band to start off the show and I got a front row seat reserved just for the “parent of the Moon.” Stuart had said, three years ago, that when he was a senior and had the chance, he would be the Moon. And this year there seemed to be no question about it. No tryouts. No requests. He was the Moon, the antagonist of the story.

Stuart as the Moon with his minions.
The high schoolers getting ready for the Solstice celebration.
The power animals hanging in the Commons.

Each child and most staff members take part in creating a power animal, from kindergarten through high school. No sketching or scissors allowed. You simply tear your animal out of a folded sheet of construction paper. Inside, everyone writes a goal, hope or dream for the coming year then staples their animal onto the string. The scraps, left from creating the animal are used to write down the bad thoughts, habits and experiences you want to get rid of. Class by class these scraps are compiled into paper bags and on the day of the Solstice celebration, they are burned on the bonfire. A final farewell.

Mine was an octopus, but it never got on a string–the joy of being part of Special Ed and not a classroom. Instead it’s tacked to the wall by my desk. Inside I wrote: Don’t be afraid to accept new opportunities.

It's like a big hippie-fest with all the drumming and dancing.

Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.

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Day Eight: Los Angeles or Bust

Odometer Reading: 1025

I’d hoped to take the Pacific Coast Highway down to my sister’s, but after talking to Uncle Dennis and my brother-in-law Will, they convinced me that it was foolhardy to think we could make it down there in one day. It would slow-going and expensive, two things I didn’t really want. So, instead, we rose early and got back onto my least favorite highway: I-5.

Eight hours later, we rolled into Los Angeles swarming with people and pollution. Just being in LA makes me a little insane and I’m sure the kids were completely baffled by the dramatic rise in my stress level, but the highways just mix and mingle and get all backed up and I feel like I might just lose my mind. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m the driver; I didn’t stress out in Bangkok, Hanoi, Boston or New York City, but I never had to drive there. In LA, I really feel like I’m gonna blow my top. Music turns off. Kids keep quiet and my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel.

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Day Seven: Sardines and San Juan Bautista

Odometer Reading: 878

Moving everything up a day, we decided that we’d visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium while staying in Gilroy since it was close enough and besides, then we wouldn’t have to pull out all that camping gear yet again. So, for an hour I bugged the kids to get up and at ’em, hoping they’d be a tad more excited about seeing what is supposed to be one of the world’s best aquariums. We managed to get out on time, though and headed further west to the ocean.

California beaches aren't what they're said to be

Unfortunately as we reached the shore, there was nothing great to be said about it. It looked remarkably like an Oregon beach: cool, grey, cloudy and it stank. Luckily, we weren’t going for a day of sunbathing, we were there for the aquarium, but it sure would have been nice to see the supposedly-beautiful California beaches that people ramble on about.

Pictures after the jump
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Day Five: Day of Rest

After not getting to bed until after 11 p.m. and having spent the entire day either walking or screaming, we were all exhausted. I couldn’t even bear to wake the kids and let them rouse on their own schedules. By 11 a.m. everyone was awake again.

It was also nearly 100°F outside. Somehow we’ve landed in Sacramento during their first real extended heat wave. Awesome.

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Day Four: Screaming is Fun

When I was just barely six years old we moved from Sacramento, CA (near my father’s family) to Newberg, OR (to be near my mother’s family). I don’t know how soon it started, but it became a tradition that nearly every summer, I would go down to Sacramento–first with just Marcella, then when Stephanie was old enough, the three of us–to stay with Grandma. We’d visit Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Carl. We’d go stay with Aunt Diana for a few days. And they would take us places: parks, the Sacto zoo, Disneyland once and several times we went to Marriott’s Great America.

Aunt Diana and the kiddos

Back then it was owned by Marriott, the hotel chain, but after several name/owner changes, it is now called California’s Great America. I have some fond memories of riding the rollercoasters and the freefall ride, the carousel that greets visitors and being there with family. So, when my Aunt Diana, who was hosting us in Sacramento, asked whether we’d like to go to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or Great America, the decision was easy for me. We all went to Six Flags on our last big California trip in 2002 and there was something nostalgically wonderful about Aunt Diana taking another generation, my kiddos, to the same park we’d enjoyed twenty years ago.

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Day Three: Leaving the Desert

Odometer Reading: 367

As soon as the sunshine slipped through the trees, I got up, rolling my sleeping bag and getting the kids to walk up and do the same. I had hoped that the chill of the morning would keep the mosquitoes at bay for a while, but, again, as soon as I opened the trunk with all our bags of clothes, they were all over me. So, while the kids did their things, I got the food back into the car, then their sleeping bags as they ran for the safety of the car. Stuart and I broke down the tents, not bothering to clean them off or even get them into their cases. We just shoved them into the trunk; I’d take care of them when we hit Sacramento.

Lily at the roadside breakfast; Scoop Away=portable kitchen

Still dressed in their pajamas, we left Crater Lake National Park and drove south toward Klamath Falls. Along the way we passed long and shallow Klamath Lake. According to our Only in Oregon book, it’s more than 20 miles long and 8 miles wide. Somewhere past the lake and past the city proper, we pulled off onto a side road for breakfast. There, in the gravel, we pulled out our kitchen box and the ice chest. The kids ate cereal and I prepared another round of hot cocoa on the propane burner. It was all fine, despite Audrey’s worrying that we’d get in trouble. In fact, the electric company guys waved as they drove by. As we ate, falcons flew above us to their nest.

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Day Two: Rocks and Mosquitoes

Odometer Reading: 174

Despite turning the heat on the yurt (what a lovely invention) it was still a bit chilly in the high desert when we woke up sometime after 7 a.m. I made some hot cocoa for the kiddos (cooked on the propane burner instead this time!) and found an intriguing entry in our copy of Only in Oregon, a rock garden out near Bend. Of course, the book didn’t have an address for the place and my map didn’t list it and I couldn’t just Google it. But my sister could. So I called her up, she searched it, read me the driving instructions and I wrote them in blue Sharpie on the only paper I could find, our now-empty food bag.

pointless pretty path

With Stuart as my navigation guide, we managed to drive straight to Petersen’s Rock Gardens. Thankfully, Google got this one right because there wasn’t a single sign until we got to their street, then it was only a small plywood sign propped against the fence.

this bridge ain't fallin' down

Petersen’s Rock Garden turned out to be a highlight of our time in eastern Oregon; we spent more than an hour looking around at all the creations that Mr. Petersen constructed nearly 50 years ago. There were bridges and buildings and water ponds and fountains and lots of miniatures houses, mansions, and churches. The kids thought it was great and were willing, even though I resisted, to run through the sprinkler to get to the small island in the middle of a lily-covered pond. The array of rocks was astonishing, with obsidian, cinder rock, and petrified woods, among many, many others that have names I don’t know. The strangest thing about the place? The forty peacocks they have that wander the property, yelling what sounds like “Help!”

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Day One: Heading South and East

suitcase/bag/sleeping bag version of Tetris

We’d been planning a road trip since last summer and I got the crazy idea that we’d merge it with a visit from my sister’s family. So when my sister flew home, she took only her son, leaving her daughter for us to bring home via our meagerly planned road trip. So today, we loaded up the rental car and started driving south, then east.

tree graveyard in the national forests
a small part of the Deschutes National Forest

We drove south to Salem and then onto Hwy. 22 over the Cascades to eastern Oregon, stopping to check out the information kiosk about the B&B Complex Fire. Seeing the vast number of burned trees in the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests awed all of us. Come to find out, ninety-thousand acres burned that year (2003) and seven years later, their grey trunks still stand, an eery forest of ghost trees. Hill after hill was covered by the sticks, reminding me of Mt. St. Helen’s eruption two decades ago.

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let the packing begin

As the trip draws closer, things have changed. Sort of like my life. I plan with high hopes, but things never seem to work out like I wish they would. And so it goes with our summer vacation. What originally was us getting to see the Grand Canyon at long last, will now not even put us in Arizona. We’d planned to couch-surf our way through a few places and one by one, others’ plans have changed and we’re left without a place to stay. And with the little money I have, we need all the free places to stay as possible. So it’s with a bit of sadness and frustration and the slightest bit of anger that I cross the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and all the Utah national parks off my list of things to see.

Road Trip 2010

Instead we’ll be spending two weeks in California and Oregon. It should look something like this with stops in Bend, Crater Lake National Park, Sacramento, Gilroy, Monterey, Solvang, Los Angeles, Riverside, Yosemite National Park, San Bernardino National Forest and Redwoods National Forest.

It’s close to 3000 miles total and even though we’re taking two weeks to do it, Google says we can make it 2 days and 7 hours. I guess what that really means is that I’ve got something like 60 hours of driving ahead of me. There are going to be some long days on the road, but interspersed with enough fun stuff, I hope, to keep the kids happy and me sane.

So yesterday I hit the local library and picked up some audiobooks for the drive. With what already have in my audiobooks file (thank you, audible.com!) we should have plenty to listen to:
* The Funny This Is… by Ellen DeGeneres
* Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
* In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
* Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
* The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski
* The Help by Kathryn Stockett
* Going Solo by Roald Dahl
* The Lost City of Z by David Grann
* The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
* Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
* The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I was thinking we might be able to get through the whole Harry Potter series over the two weeks, but the library didn’t have them. So instead, we’ll get a mish-mash of fiction and non-fiction, youth and adult.

Hopefully it’ll drown out any sounds of arguing from the back seat.

We’re bringing my niece along for the bulk of the trip, returning her to her parents (my sister and her husband) in Los Angeles. Should be lots of fun to spend so much time with her; since she lives so far away, we don’t get to see that side of the family often. In fact, it had been two years between visits (we’d been in Vietnam last summer when they visited), making it extra nice to be together again. But it also means that for the next two weeks, I’m the mother of three and I never liked being outnumbered by kids.

I pick up our rental car on Wednesday morning and we’ll hit the road at noon. Wish us luck; with my history of things not working quite right, we’re going to need it.