Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Missile Park!

On our recent explore of Southern New Mexico, we took the gang 6 y.o No.1, 5 y.o. No. 2, and 2 y.o. No. 3 here. The park is exactly what it's title infers, a variety of missiles situated in a park like setting. The climate in New Mexico is rather dry most of the year, so the landscaping around the missiles consists of crushed rock rather than grass. Winding sidewalks connect all the different missile exhibits.

If you're not familiar with White Sands Missile Range, it's where much of America's rocket development took place in the years following World War II. Wernher von Braun worked at this site as well as the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. The plane that carried him between the two sites is on display in the park.

The missile range where the park is situated is fenced off, and can only be entered by approaching a guard station situated about 5 miles down NM-213 off of US 70 just east of Las Cruces, NM. We new the park was there since we used to live in Las Cruces, and so drove out to the guard station. Once there, we were asked for our IDs and told to park in the nearby offsite parking lot while a background check was performed. The guard instructed us to get out of the car, and walk back towards the entrance for a briefing.

Having watched Teen Titans, and other superhero cartoons, the gang was super-excited about being 'briefed'. The briefing from the very friendly guard just informed us of how to walk to the park from the gate, and which direction we could take photographs in, (away from the missile range, and towards the Organ Mountains). As an extra bonus, a black Suburban drove by right after our briefing :)

The exhibits might be jarring to depending on your point of view. For example, one of the smaller, cuter missiles, was actually intended to carry a nuclear weapon into a fleet of enemy bomber planes. However, if you'd just like to see rockets, a self-guided walk around the park might be just the thing.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bus Camping without Reservation

We had a blast camping across the Golden Gate Bridge at Pantoll Campground this weekend!  It’s one of the few campgrounds in the Bay Area where reservations aren’t required, and even better yet, you don’t have to drive to get there!

We set out on Friday afternoon from San Francisco State University on the 28 and rode to the Golden​ Gate Transit (GGT) Center stop.  From there we walked upstairs, hopped on the GGT 4, and took it across the bridge to Equator Coffee in Mill Valley.  The coffee shop is great for kids, and has enough outdoor seating for our gang of 5, (3 kids and 2 parents).  If you forgot to bring water, (we did), the liquor store situated next to the coffee shop is also handy.  We waited at the coffee shop for a pleasant 20 minutes or so for the Marin Transit 61.  The 61 winds up through the mountains passing Muir Woods on the way, and stops directly across the street from Pantoll campground.

The forecast for Friday night at Pantoll called for an 83% chance of rain.  I’m guessing this contributed our getting the pick of the campsites.  The kids put up the tent, and we went for a hike through the foggy woods full of furry trees.  An hour or so later, the sun went down, we climbed into our tent, and went to sleep.

We were expecting more of the typical Bay Area mist-as-rain storm, but for once, it full-on rained!  We slept all night bundled into our bags with torrents of rain bouncing off the rain-fly just a few feet above our heads.  It was incredible!  Thing cleared off around 5 AM, and then we would up getting up around 6 because the full  moon was so bright, it was lighting up the tent.

By 7:30 or so, we were on our way into Stinson Beach via the 3-mile long, all downhill Steep Ravine Trail.  Six-year-old No. 1 and five-year-old No. 2 bounded ahead of us, occasionally coming back to make sure everyone was still coming.  Mom-person took time with them later in the hike to point out that if they came to a fork in the trail, they were to stop and wait for us.  (There are only two forks somewhat late in the trail closer to Stinson Beach.)  Two-year-old No. 3 also walked the entire hike minus perhaps 100 yards, but hung with us most of the time.

There are only a few technically difficult parts of the hike denpending on how tall you are.  There are some fairly steep, fairly tall steps where 3 asked us to hold her hand on her way down.  There’s also a ladder-cum-staircase that bridges a seven-foot cliff in the middle of the trail.  1 and 2 made it down the inclined ladder rungs on their own.  I carried 3 with me.  The last time we were up here, she and I made our way down the ladder with her in the Moby wrap.

Once we arrived in Stinson Beach, we made our way immediately to the ParkSide Restaurant.  Having now done this twice, I’ll go instead to the ParkSide snack bar located in the same building two entrances down next time.  The restaurant is kid-friendly, and decent enough, but it’s more of a place to be seen than to hangout.  Save yourself a lot of money and time, and hit the snack bar with similar sorts of food, (they appear to both be owned by the same outfit), for far less money.

Having made our three mile hike down the hill, we elected not to hike back up, and instead caught the 61 at the corner of Shoreline Highway, and Calle del Mar back to the campground.  Before the bus came, we picked up some slightly over-priced groceries at Shoreline Market right across from the downtown Stinson Beach bus stop, and had a mini-picnic in the tent that evening under the rainfly to block the wind, and stay warm while we told ghost stories.

Only one warning: be sure to lock your campsite food-box thoroughly.  We lost most of our groceries to racoons in the middle of the night.  We were returning home the next day, so it was no great loss.

I stressed a little over finding bus routes home Saturday night before the phone battery died.  It turns out I need not have worried.  The return trip is even easier than the trip out, as long as your return on a weekend.  On weekends, instead of terminating in Marin City, the 61 ends its route at the Sausalito Ferry port.  If you have a Clipper Card with cash funds on it just get in line.  You can take the ferry back to San Francisco for $4.75.  If you don’t you can purchase a Clipper Card from the vending machine at the port.  Mom-person and I treated ourselves to pretty decent Bloody Marys on the way across the bay, (yet another reason we love public transit here).  The kdis sat inside fascinated alternately with watching both the ball-game, (we watch next to no television at the house), and all the people moving to-and-fro on the ferry.  We sat outside and were treated to an escort of pelicans, and a sea lion headed the opposite direction across the bay.

From the ferry terminal it was an easy two block walk to Embarcadero BART station where we made our way home.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Two-year-old No. 3 and my stumbling crash a few weeks back has become shared legend between she and I.  I got to hang out with the gang all day today, and when we arrived at soccer practice, three weeks, and one-and-a-half blocks East of our tumble on the sidewalk, she pointed down the road and said "That's where we tumbled, and went crrsshhccc."

I said, "Yeah, and where'd you land?"

"On my backpack."  Then unexpectedly, she said, "You landed on your cheek."  I had completely forgotten that she'd been looking right at me as she landed!  Her attention to detail during our crash is astounding!  I had landed on my cheek.

Later in the afternoon, No. 3 and I headed back out to pick up chicken at our local market.  As we rounded the corner to our bus stop, a woman said "Hi Diana!"

The kids have lots of friends in the neighborhood I don't know thanks to their daily roamings.  I introduced myself and we started to talk.  It turns out that she knew Diana from when she used to go, frequently tucked inside a wrap, to the Chinese story time at our local library.  I love our neighborhood!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Fun of Unschooling from a Dad's Point of View

The dad-person over at 'Happiness is Here' recently wrote an article to other dads who might be making the decision to homeschool.  As a dad who already has kids who decided to homeschool, I thought I'd chime in with why it's so much fun.

As a fellow dad of unschooled kids, I confess that people will on occasion give you meaningful glances--over an apparently harmless statement or question about your kids' education.  Glances that obviously are meant to imply that you should be very, very concerned about this non-standard thing your kids are doing, (unschooling).  I'm happy to report however, that this has only happened a very few times for us.

The more common thing, at least for me, are entertaining questions from non-homeschoolers, but those are just fun.  Things like looking with great consternation at the pack consisting of then 1 year-old No. 3, 3 year-old No. 2, and 4 year-old No. 1 wandering around beside us and asking, "Are those your kids?"  Followed immediately by "Should they be in school?"  Apparently the only safe-kid, (I was unclear, but I'm pretty sure the safety the gentleman was concerned about was his own, not the kids'), is a well corralled kid.

Then there was the time a concerned citizen called in a possible bomb threat.  "There's a bearded man with a large package concealed under his hoodie."  The package was 8 month old No. 1 snugged into her Moby for a walk.  The policeman went from terrified to baffled as the situation unfurled on the grounds of a national laboratory.

You get a whole lot of "those kids are too cold," "too warm," or "their shoes are on the 'wrong' feet."  The simple and proud answer, "They dressed themselves!" never seems to suffice.  The perhaps more true answer of "Well, we got out of the house 15 minutes earlier because I did me while they did them." rarely works, and eventually you might just end up at, "Oh, hunh, thanks for pointing that out."

Once we received a standing ovation, as we were sung to.  A group of 20 or Chinese tourists who had amassed on the sidewalk in front of us parted like the Red Sea to let us get through as they cheered and sang.  I have yet to figure out what that was all about.

I've found advantages that I wouldn't have initially expected from homeschooling as well.  For one, we're more closely integrated with our community than we otherwise would have been.  A few years ago when I asked then 4 year-old 1 who she wanted to invite to Thanksgiving, I expected an answer that involved perhaps a grandparent, or an uncle.  Instead she responded that she wanted to invite two of her friends, the brothers who own our nearby convenience store.

Our kids have friends of all ages in almost every section of town.  I think it's due in large part to them actually being out and about in town as opposed to being sequestered behind four walls.  In fact, I meet new friends all the time because of the kids.  People frequently introduce themselves to me when I'm not with the kids, remarking that they ride the bus with my kids.

Our kids are even learning how to bandy about frivolities at bars a few years earlier than they otherwise might!  A few months ago when we trekked to a nearby state to watch the solar eclipse, six year-old No. 1 ventured from our table in the cafe to the bar on the other side of the building, bellied up, and asked for a glass of water.  When one of the patrons asked if she'd be buying the next round she replied that she couldn't as she had no money because she'd worn tights that day with no pockets.  We had no idea what had transpired until a few minutes later the establishment's proprietor appeared to enquire if it would be OK if the man at the bar bought 1 and her sibs a round of ice cream.  That's when 1 told us about her conversation.  The kids enjoyed the ice cream she had finagled for them, we bought a round of drinks for the bar, and a great time was had by all!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Young Indie and the Fish Temple of Doom

As a kid, one of my coolest memories of San Francisco was visiting the fortune cookie factory.  Consequently, one morning, I snuggled six month old No. 3 into her Moby wrap strapped across my chest, handed 4 year-old No. 1 her backpack, asked 2 year old No. 2 to put on his shoes, and we hopped onto MUNI.  We BARTed to Montgomery Station, wandered up top, meandered for about a block, and hopped on the 30 to Chinatown.

When we arrived, we found ourselves awash in a sea of people!  No. 1 and 2 made their way slowly through the crowd in front of me.  No. 1 was perfecting her bob and weave.  I stayed close to No. 2, serving as a kind of safety flag.  providing a large slow moving baby-wearing obstacle that caught people's attention even if they didn’t see the kid toddling along at my feet.

 All four of us, have lightning fast metabolisms, so it wasn’t long before we needed a snack.  Fortunately, we were in the right place.  The groceries and bakeries in Chinatown are full of all manner of delightful treats!  Later, we’d learn to duck into a bakery for dumplings when we were hungry, but that day we were relative neophytes.  Used to the relatively quiet little markets of Excelsior, we ducked into the first grocery I saw.

 It was was a delightfully bustling mayhem!  Shoppers bumped through elbow-to-elbow. I managed to snag a giant, delicious looking apple, and we headed for the checkout line… sort of.  Not we sort of headed.  It was sort of a checkout line.  The ‘line’ was a collection of people two, and sometimes three deep that swirled, and rearranged as they made their way, seemingly mostly by osmosis, towards the cash register.  People hopped in front of us, and then scooched a bit back as others hopped in front of them.  All of this was amidst a general din of Mandarin.  

 Finally, one shopper actually lined up behind us.  She’d been to the live fish tank.  That’s right, in San Francisco, you can buy your fish live at the store!  We knew this because she’d placed three live fish head-down in the bag.  As she scrunched in behind us, the fish’s tails gently slapped at the back of No. 2’s head.  He didn’t seem to notice the wet, gentle slaps as we waited in line with our hard-won apple.

 We’d managed to move about two feet in two minutes when an infinitely kind, but brisk patron approached me.  “Is that all you have?” she said pointing at our apple.

 “Uh, yeah.”  I muttered, afraid we were about to be kicked out of line altogether.

 “Give it to me!”


 “Give me the apple!”

 Half trusting that she must know something I didn’t, and half curious to see what would happen next, I handed her our snack.  She wove through the crowd bouncing off a few of the more boisterous shoppers, reached the cash register, proffered up some money, returned, and handed our apple back to me.

 I offered to pay for it, but she wouldn’t take the money.  As if we were escaping a death trap in an overwrought Indiana Jones movie, she looked at us earnestly, and waving both hands at the door behind us, implored, “Go!  Just go!!!”  Heeding her advice, we narrowly escaped before the doomed fish had a chance to come out of the bag and really go after No. 2.  

Standing on the corner, we shared our gigantic, incredibly delicious free apple, and planned the rest of our day in Chinatown.