Category Archives: California landmarks

Our Staycation Winds Down

I have lots to write about this past week, but we're heading into
busy breakfast time so it'll have to wait. In the meantime, a few more
photos. Lots more at Flickr.

(If you have a Flickr account, let me know so I can Friend you.)

Day Four: Old Town San Diego. Fun and free—can't beat that!

One of the beautiful rooms in the hacienda that belonged to the commandant of the Spanish fort circa 1825.

Candledipping takes fierce concentration.

Stencil on the wall of the visitor's center.

Vacation Day One

Scott is taking his first real vacation since we moved to San Diego.
Yes, I’m excited. My awesome parents have flown in from Denver and are
entertaining my "twins" while Scott and I take the big girls on some
outings of the sort that can be a wee bit difficult to mesh with the
needs of little ones.

So yesterday, after two years of oohing wistfully over the proximity (i.e. 20 minutes from home), we went to Sea World.

Of course, if you follow me on Twitter, you already know this.

I’ve put a few photos up at Flickr.
Mostly, though, I was too busy waving to my girls as their cars paused at
the top of horrifically scary rides and revisiting my adolescent Vicky Austin-wannabe fantasies at the dolphin tanks.

Not to mention sobbing with awe through the Shamu show.

Not sure what’s in store for today. It’s possible I overdid the
walking a teeny tiny bit yesterday. Today might have to be even more of
a sit-and-wave-at-daughters kind of day for me.


This time last year, I was driving through Kansas. It was our fifth
day on the road en route from Virginia to California: the five kids and
me. If you’d like to read about our trip, I’ve pulled all the posts
together into one big page, here.

It’s hard to believe it has been a year. Hard to believe we are West
Coasters now, decorating for autumn by plopping pumpkins alongside our
rainbow of moss roses. (This year I’ll know to keep watch against pumpkin mush.)
We’re planting sunflowers in the back yard at the same time that we’re
planning Halloween and All Saints’ Day costumes. It’s a bit surreal.

We went to Balboa Park
again today. This time we visited the Museum of Man, lingering
particularly long in the Egyptian wing. The kids were fascinated by the
mummies, but I was a little bothered by the sad remains of the Lemon Grove Mummy,
the body of what seems to have been a girl around fifteen years of age,
possibly pregnant, curled into a fetal position. Her skin sags loosely
around her old, old bones. She was found in a cave near Chihuahua,
Mexico, in 1966 by two teenagers, who stole her and smuggled her home
to Lemon Grove, California. Apparently she sat in a garage for 14 years
because the boys didn’t want their parents to find out what they’d
done. Eventually she was discovered and donated to the Museum of Man.
She’s a special part of the mummy display, but I felt uncomfortable
gawking at her in her glass case: it seems like a violation of her
humanity for her to be cached there in public view next to the interactive
media display about how scientists determined her age and origin. She’s
one of several mummies there, and all the others had struck me as
simply fascinating until we got to the Lemon Grove girl. Maybe it’s
because she wasn’t wrapped up in linens like the Egyptian mummies. She
reminded me of the Irish Bog People, and Seamus Heaney’s poems about them.

Some day I will go to Aarhus

To see his peat-brown head,

The mild pods of his eye-lids,

His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by

Where they dug him out,

His last gruel of winter seeds

Caked in his stomach…

(—from "Tollund Man" by Seamus Heaney.)

And that made me think of grad school, where I first read Heaney’s
poems, back in the early ’90s when I had no inkling that one day I
would stand in a Southern California museum, recalling those lines
while watching four blonde heads peer at a long Mexican teenager in a
glass case, another golden-haired child perched on my hip in a sling. I
didn’t see today coming even two years ago, even 18 months ago.

Rilla was born in April of ’06 and Scott got the job offer in June.
I planted a cherry tree in our yard that spring, a gift from my mother.
I wonder if the new homeowners got cherries this summer?

This day last year we rolled into Kansas, where the prairie "slices the big sun at evening," to quote Heaney’s "Bogland."
Today we watched the frothy spray of the big Balboa Park fountain paint
a rainbow on the blue canvas of the sky. We counted koi in the long
lily pond outside the Botanical Building, their splotched
orange-and-cream bodies undulating beneath spiky, ladylike blossoms and
the notched round leaves that reminded us of Thumbelina’s prison and
Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s raft. We peered inside the deep wells of
pitcher-plant blossoms, angling to see if any hapless insects lay
dissolving inside. How surreal, this eager scrutiny of death, the
children chattering and lively in the moist green air of this palatial
greenhouse, just as they had been in the domed, echoing hush of the

How surreal to be pondering corpses while the children are laughing.
Pondering the human bodies, preserved; the insects, acid-eaten, their
final resting place the polar opposite of Heaney’s peat bog, where
hastily buried bodies remained clothed and well-manicured for
centuries, and

    Butter sunk under

    More than a hundred years

    Was recovered salty and white.

Sometimes I think about how life is like the very DNA it’s made of, a set of intertwined
spirals full of small stories. A girl dies in Mexico and centuries
later is brought to another country, where a woman stares at her empty
skin and remembers an Irishman with a rope round his neck, preserved
through the long march of years by the tannic acid in the peat and the
ripe syllables of a bristle-browed poet. A child leans out over a
reflecting pool and joyously points at a fish the same color as the
pumpkins she begged her mother to buy that morning. A man in Virginia
wanders, perhaps, out into his yard, and plucks a withered, mummified
cherry he missed during the summer harvest, while the hands that
planted the tree are pushing sunflower seeds into gritty soil a continent


Scott’s Home, So It Feels Like Saturday

And Saturday is when I play with my photos.

I love this picture of Beanie admiring a stand of bamboo in the Japanese Friendship Garden at Balboa Park.


That was the day we visited the art museum. We had parked behind the Organ Pavilion, which is next to the Japanese Garden, so of course we had to stroll through the garden on our way back to the car.

We were just in time to feed the koi.



I loved the bonsai collection.



Isn’t that one stunning?

Even with five kids in tow, the garden is a peaceful place.


On the way out, we bumped into some friends. Rose took over the camera while the moms chatted.


I think this shot of the Spreckles Organ Pavilion was hers, too.


This next one is from outside the delightfully named House of Charm, which holds the San Diego Art Institute (not to be confused with the San Diego Museum of Art) and the Mingei International Museum, a collection of folk art from around the world.


We haven’t been inside yet, but we found plenty to look at (and climb on) outside the building.




That’s El Cid on his warhorse, by the way. This statue was presented to the park by the San Diego Historical Society in 1930.

And how best to unwind after a day at the park? Relax on your own personal park bench at home, of course! (Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa, for the bench and the countless photo ops it provides.)


Got More Monet than Time

We’ve been meaning to visit all the Balboa Park museums since our
arrival in San Diego, but the zoo and the aquarium kept wooing us back
for repeat visits this summer, hogging our outing time. Then a couple
of weeks ago, Alice discovered an incredible art museum
near her San Fran abode, and her stories of close encounters with works
by Rembrandt, Cassatt, and Monet fired me up to move "take kids to San
Diego Museum of Art" from the Sometime list to the Do It Now one.

Yesterday, as I mentioned in my somewhat grumbly tale at Lilting House, was the monthly Free Tuesday there, so off we went.

Lesson number one: You might think you are being all kinds of clever
and responsible by spending the morning cleaning house before packing
up the kids for the big museum outing—"We’ll come home to a nice clean
house, won’t that be nice?"—but you are wrong. The parking lot police
officer took time out from writing tickets for cars illegally parked in
the handicapped spaces to tell me, jovially, that you have to arrive
before 10 a.m. if you want to get a (legal) parking spot. It was 11:45
when he was telling me this, so: whoops.

He very kindly told me where to go to find a parking lot I could
drive around in for 25 minutes hunting for a space. I took his advice,
and figured out all on my own how to stalk a pedestrian strolling into
the lot with keys jangling, suggesting the possibility that she was
returning to her car and therefore about to vacate a space. The space
was approximately four inches wider than my minivan, so I spent another
18 minutes backing-and-filling in order to get into it.

By this time the kids were fed up with Balboa Park and asked if we
could go home. I laughed like a crazy person and told them if they
thought I was going to give up this parking space, EVER, they were
sorely mistaken. "We are going to LIVE here from now on," I told them.
"Forever. I worked too hard for this space. I am never going to leave
it, you can bury me here. Hold on, I need to call Daddy and give him
our new address. Honey, we now reside at Space #16, The Lot Behind
Spreckles Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park, San Diego, I don’t know the zip
code yet. Can you change the mail forwarding? Because I can’t leave
this spot to go to the Post Office."

Then one of the kids pointed out the sign that said the lot closes at 6 p.m.

"Shoot," I sighed. "We’d better go see that museum before they kick us out."

The facade of the museum is currently hidden behind plywood and tarps,
presumably for a restoration of some kind, but you scarcely notice that
as you herd your children up the stroller ramp, because your gaze is
transfixed by the lovely pensive face of the Young Shepherdess, the gem
of the museum’s collection. Painted in 1895 by William Bougereau,  the
Shepherdess is arguably the gallery’s most beloved work of art. My
daughters want to be her (because she is pretty, goes barefoot, and has
sheep) and were desperately eager to see her.

Turns out she is off gallivanting around the country right now. A
museum guard told me (very chatty these Balboa Park personnel are, and
don’t I appreciate it!) that the painting is making a U.S. tour this
summer. But she’ll be back in a few months, and that’s fine because it
will probably take me that long to find another parking space.

Instead of the Shepherdess, we visited Giverny.
Oh! Giverny! The word is magical. It whispers: Monet, poppies,
haystacks, light-streaked skies, picturesque laborers in wheat fields
drenched with sun. We made a beeline for the visiting exhibit, a large
collection of Impressionist works by the artists who congregated in the
little French painters’ colony during the late 1800s. They took their
easels out to the woods and fields in a golden frenzy of plein-air
painting. All right, the wall placard describing the exhibit didn’t say
anything about a frenzy per se, but it did talk a lot about plein-air
painting, a term whose pronunciation I managed to fake quite passably
but of whose definition I was ignorant until a kind-eyed Englishwoman
explained it to Jane.

She was quite a knowledgeable woman and shared many tidbits of
information with us as we strolled from painting to breathtaking
painting. Monet was everywhere, shimmering in leaf green and spruce
green, plummy shadows, frothy blues. Forget my parking space, I want to
live in one of those paintings.

I particularly liked the work of American Impressionist Theodore Robinson, about whom I probably ought to have known before but didn’t. (Oh look! I just realized he’s the same guy Elizabeth posted about a few days ago. Maybe that’s why his name jumped out at me.) We also
greatly admired the work of John Leslie Breck and Guy Rose. But it was
Monet who gave us the goosebumps. Jane and I could not believe we were
standing there in front of his actual paintings, a dozen of them at
least. I lost count. I was too occupied with counting the heads—and
more to the point, hands—of my own children. "Don’t touch the wall,
honey. Oh! And don’t point at the paintings. What if you accidentally
touched one! Good heavens! Oh! No, Wonderboy, don’t poke the nice
English lady. She’s your sisters’ only chance of having their questions
answered here because Mommy is distr—Oh! No, Beanie, you can’t eat
string cheese in an art museum!"

I do not pretend our outings are serene.

If I get a chance later, I will link to some of the paintings we got to look at. This one, Morning on the Seine Near Giverny (which looks washed out in every image I could find online but is in reality saturated with color so rich it’s like light poured itself into pigment) is the one I mentioned in yesterday’s Lilting House post, the print Rose fell in love with in the bookstore. There were other paintings we liked even better: I think all of us favored the golden haystack ones (and there were many—mighty fond of painting haystacks were those Impressionists) over the misty river paintings.

Not that there’s any reason to choose. The world is an art gallery nowadays. I foresee many virtual pilgrimages to Giverny in our future. As there have been in our past—Linnea in Monet’s Garden and Katie Meets the Impressionists have ranked highly in our book catalogue for many years.

After the Giverny exhibit, we toured several other galleries in the museum, encountering Goya, Renoir,  O’Keefe, Warhol, Fra Angelico, and Giotto. We missed Picasso, Rembrandt, and Chagall, but we’ll be back.

As soon as I find parking.

“At First I Could Only Hear People Sounds”

It was a bit humbling to arrive here on the West Coast and realize much of my flora-and-fauna expertise was now obsolete. I don’t know the plants out here yet. Oh, sure, I could identify a bird of paradise or a palm tree—but what kind of palm tree? Got me.

Of course this just makes for a nice new sort of adventure to have with the kids, and honestly, that’s the kind of thing I like best: having a new topic of study to sink my teeth into.

I picked up a couple of field guides and also buried myself in issues of Sunset magazine, a supercool housewarming gift from a certain other East Coast transplant (which: Thank you again, my dear). Lots of local nature centers and gardens have plant labels along their paths, too, and we’ve been slowly educating ourselves that way. But the biggest coup was meeting Julia.

Julia is a young woman we bumped into at a May Fair last, um, May. She and her friend were passing out fliers for a nature studies summer camp, which sounded wonderful but didn’t fit our summer plans. We got to chatting, though, and it quickly became apparent that Julia was just the person I’d been looking for. I’d had a vague idea of hiring a college student to go on some nature walks with us, or even just walks in our neighborhood so we could learn the local landscaping plants. I’m telling you, we’re starting from square one out here!

Julia, it turns out, is an avid urban forager. This news made Jane light up. Back in Virginia, Jane attended several sessions of a nature studies camp, during which she learned (among a lot of other things) to eat her way through the woods and fields and suburban backyards. She got all the other kids in the neighborhood hooked on chickweed as a tasty, iron-rich snack and violets for vitamin C.

But about Julia. I explained what I was looking for, and we exchanged email addresses, and though it took us a while to coordinate dates, we finally managed to schedule a nature hike at Mission Trails, a large natural area close enough to home that I can take my kids there on a regular basis. We have made several visits there already and have fallen in love with its rugged, scrubby hills and rich history.

Yesterday afternoon, I dropped Rose and Jane off at the park entrance, where Julia was waiting with a smile and a backpack full of surprises. ("Grapes, Mommy! She brought grapes for us!") Of course I would have loved to go too, but this outing was a bit more than my younger set could handle. We went to the Super Exciting Grocery Store instead.

Julia had suggested an evening hike for the cooler weather and more active wildlife. And sure enough, the trekkers came home full of stories about the coyote they’d seen, and bats, and birds.

Rose said her favorite part was the twenty minutes the girls spent sitting in silence on a boulder, listening.

"At first I could only hear people noises, Mommy. But then I started to hear lots of birds, and some crickets, and wind and things rustling."

Jane filled a page in her nature book with what she called "sound sketches"—little pencil marks in waves and peaks representing the different sounds she heard. It was really pretty amazing, the way she could look at her cryptic markings and demonstrate the bird calls for me, or the sound of a bullfrog plopping into a pond.

Rose sketched the things she saw: the San Diego River, a fallen tree, a stump that looked like a dog’s head until she got close, a heart-shaped marking on a tree trunk. "I couldn’t tell whether the heart was made by a person or an animal or just Nature," she told me. During the silent listening time, she imagined a whole story about the heart, and although it was nearly nine o’clock by the time the girls were home and had torn themselves away from Julia, revealer of mysteries, Rose insisted upon writing down her story before she went to bed. She didn’t want to forget. Julia had shown the girls flat stones with rounded indentations where Kumeyaay Indian woman had long ago ground their grain. Rose imagined that the tree-trunk heart was carved by an Indian boy, but his beloved had died before he finished the carving and so the tree had finished the heart itself, curving its bark so as to complete the heart.

How blessed are we? I was looking, you know, for our "breezy open," and here it is handed to us on a stone platter, complete with a gentle and enthusiastic guide who knows the way to open a child’s heart is with grapes and a quiet space in which to listen to the wind, the coyotes, and the stories carved on trees by time and imagination.


Fortuna Peak at Mission Trails Regional Park

Saturday Outing: Cabrillo National Monument

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
  Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                   —John Keats, "On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer"


Gorgeous sunny day yesterday, perfect for an outing we’d been planning. We drove out to Cabrillo National Monument, a Southern California landmark perched on a craggy hill on the tip of the San Diego peninsula. The views are spectacular: to your east, San Diego Bay cradling Coronado Island, and on the far side of the bay, the small cluster of skyscrapers that mark downtown San Diego, and the green hills beyond. To your west, the wide-open Pacific.

The peninsula, a long narrow finger of land, is called Point Loma. You reach it by following Harbor Drive past the airport and winding first west, then south through Fort Rosecranz National Cemetery. The rows and rows of white grave markers extending on both sides of the road reminded me of Arlington.

After we entered the Cabrillo site, we parked in a lot at the base of a stubby hill. The western view drew us to the wall for a long look.



That lower road on the left leads to a beach with tidepools. It was chilly and windy on the point, and a few of us were missing jackets, so we decided to save tidepooling for another day.

A path leads up the little hill to an old lighthouse.


The Old Point Loma Lighthouse guided sailors from 1855 through 1891. Unfortunately, the site proved to be too far from the tip of the peninsula, and fog often obscured the light.

Inside, rooms have been preserved just as the lighthouse keeper’s family might have left them. The main sitting room enchanted my girls; we imagined the lighthouse keeper’s daughters collecting the shells carefully arranged on a shelf or writing letters at the old flip-top desk with all the enticing cubbyholes. It’s the kind of place that sends book ideas charging into one’s mind…

We squeezed up the winding staircase to the bedroom level, but the tower level wasn’t open to the public.

Back down the stairs and through the gate, we found ourselves facing the Bay.


Unfortunately the camera battery died before I got pictures of the Bay. The kids loved seeing the gleaming curves of Coronado Bridge, which we’d driven over on a previous outing. (Veronica Mars viewers will remember the bridge as the setting for some significant scenes involving Logan Echolls’s mother and, later, Logan himself.)

A goodish walk or a short drive from the lighthouse is the Cabrillo Visitor’s Center and a large statue of Juan Cabrillo himself. This picture is from his Wikipedia entry; there is a close-up of his face at the monument’s official website, where you can read all about Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the sixteenth-century Spanish explorer who "discovered" San Diego Bay.

"Cabrillo departed from the port of Navidad, Mexico, on June 27, 1542.
Three months later he arrived at "a very good enclosed port," which is
known today as San Diego Bay. Historians believe he anchored his
flagship, the San Salvador, on Point Loma’s east shore near Cabrillo
National Monument.  Cabrillo later died during the expedition, but his
crew pushed on, possibly as far north as Oregon, before thrashing
winter storms forced them to back to Mexico."

We drove by the Visitor’s Center but tummies were rumbling, and we decided to save that too for the next visit.