Steep Ravine Camping 2017

For the Fourth of July we made a return visit to Mt. Tamalpais’s Steep Ravine campground. On the way up, we stopped in San Francisco for a hike and lunch break at a foggy, yet picturesque, spot.

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Once we got to the campground, we spent some time hauling our stuff in wheelbarrows from the car to the site. The boys were a big help this time, even though they did plenty of moaning and groaning about it. We were all happy to be back in this beautiful place.

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It was chilly, so we had dinner and made a fire early. (It’s hard to tell it was cold by the boys’ clothing, but I was already in a parka and warm hat.)

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We upped our s’mores game this trip thanks to Christina’s suggestion.

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Here’s our campsite at dusk. The sites there are pretty separate and it really feels like you’re out in nature all by yourselves.

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Our night was quite eventful with a persistent raccoon trying to help himself to our food supply. We anticipated him after he chowed down on a whole loaf of bread last year, and we made sure all the food was secure before we went to bed. However, he still managed to wake us by making a whole lot of noise trying to get into an empty food container. Bruce scared him away, but then a few hours later we woke up to his noises again! This time, he was tearing at our tent trying to get to a backpack that we had inside the tent. He must have smelled whatever remnants of food were in it, and he tore a hole in the tent trying to get to it. Needless to say, Bruce was not happy. He scared him away again and luckily that was the last we saw of him.

The next morning was cold and foggy — to be expected.

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We spent the morning close to the campsite and looked for whales and dolphins. We found them! Sadly, my lens is not the right equipment for catching them, but I tried and I’ve cropped and zoomed a couple of photos.

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I also got a video.

Even though it’s hard to capture on the camera, the experience of seeing the whales and dolphins roaming around is not to miss. We had some great vantage points too.

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There were other animals also — birds, bunnies, some sort of small rodent that was actually really cute. And, a couple of monkeys in a tree.

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After a while, we decided to go on a hike. We started out on a short trail that starts at the campground, but soon found that it led to where we could access the road (Highway 1) that had been closed due to a big landslide. We weren’t close enough to the slide to be in any danger, and it was really fun to have the road all to ourselves.

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We stopped at one point and went out to a rocky area where we had a nice view. (I think Ezra was looking at ants in this photo.)

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And then we headed back.

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It was clearing up and we planned to head down to the beach. I took this shot of the entire campground.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon down at the beach. It was chilly but beautiful.

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We’d had a lovely time, but Bruce had been having intermittent chest pain and lightheadedness. After we got back from the beach and had dinner, we decided it would be best to skip the second night and head home. With the surprisingly long July days, we had plenty of light to get everything packed up. I was happy to sleep in our own bed that night since I was coming down with a cold. The rest of Bruce’s story is not blog material.

We hope someday we’ll be able to reserve one of the cabins at this campground. There are only about ten of them and they are very hard to get!

Carmel

Shortly after returning from Big Basin, the boys and I went to Carmel for a couple of days with Christina, Henry, and Julia. It was fun to see their house there and discover how beautiful Carmel is. It was chilly, but that didn’t stop the kids from wanting to spend time at the beach (of course). There was the obligatory digging and building.

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After that, we went on a nice walk through town. The reward was the candy store.

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The next morning, Christina and I went on a moms-only walk and had breakfast at a little cafe. It was a great way to start the day.

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After we got our acts together and dragged the kids off their devices, we went to the Aquarium. We didn’t stay very long but we had a good time.

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We had another round of building on the beach before we headed home. Finn and Julia even braved the water … a little bit.

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Great trip!

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Big Basin Camping 2017

We kicked off the summer with a camping trip to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We rode bikes, took hikes, whittled, relaxed at the campsite, made s’mores — all of the usual camping activities.

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Ezra was beyond thrilled to discover that Base Fake Fake (as explained in my 2015 entry here) was still there.

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Here are a few other shots from the trip. Ezra whittling:

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Finn roasting a marshmallow:

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Melting pennies on the fire:

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I took a few shots on one of our hikes. We found a gazillion banana slugs.

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It’s really something to be among the redwoods.

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SoCal Visit

On May 20th, right after Finn’s piano recital, we headed down to SoCal for a sad purpose — the funeral of Bruce’s stepdad, Jay. Despite the circumstances, it was great to see all of Bruce’s siblings and get all the cousins together. I didn’t take enough pictures, but here’s one of some of the cousins. It was like a meeting of the minds at this table.

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One of the tasks for the siblings was cleaning out the condo. Of course, treasures abounded. Here are a few.

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The funeral was a lovely celebration of Jay’s life. We all enjoyed the eulogy his brother gave with stories we’d never heard. Next time we’re all together, though, we have to do a better job getting photos!

Finn and Bruce’s Bear Valley Trip

As I mentioned in my last post, Finn chose to go on a snowboarding trip for his birthday instead of having a party. He didn’t have to twist Bruce’s arm too much since he wanted to get back on the slopes again too. So, the weekend after Finn’s birthday they went to Bear Valley. They stayed at the Bear Valley Lodge. There was tons of snow.

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They did some snowshoeing.

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Made a giant snowball.

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And had a snowboarding/skiing day.

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Lucky ten-year-old.

Colorado Trip

We spent the last few days of Spring Break in Silverthorne, Colorado with the SoCal Moisions thanks to a generous offer of his cabin from Vanessa’s uncle. The cabin is enormous, with comfortable common areas, a nice kitchen, and, much to the boys delight, a pool table.

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There was still patchy snow on the ground when we arrived, enough for the boys to have a snowball fight.

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The first full day we were there we went snow tubing. I’d never been before and it was super fun.

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The second day we went skiing. I was a little nervous since it’s been eons since I’ve skied and I was worried about getting hurt. Bruce and I took a class for beginners, which was good (and we “graduated” early since we weren’t truly first timers). Here we are all geared up.

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I don’t have any pictures of us actually skiing, which also means I don’t have any of me falling when trying to exit the ski lift. Which is good.

The boys took a snowboarding class. Here’s video of Finn (it takes a while to become apparent where he is).

And here’s Ezra.

They were both very tired by the time we caught up with them in the afternoon and there had been some mishaps. Snow sports are hard, but overall they had a really good time. I thought they looked great out there!

Overnight we had a little snow storm so we woke up to a thin blanket of snow.

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Bruce and I got in a little hike around the property and then we packed up and hit the road. We were all happy to get home to our girls — even allergic Bruce.

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Caples Lake Part II

Towards the end of winter break, Bruce took the boys back to Caples Lake for a few more days of snowy/icy fun. I stayed home where it was warm, so I don’t have a lot of details about the trip. But the pictures he took are stunning. I’ll post them here and perhaps when he has time he will edit this entry to add some specifics.

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More pictures here.

Caples Lake Fishing Trip

On the day after Thanksgiving, Bruce and the boys went with one of his colleagues, Andrei, to Caples Lake in the Sierra for a fishing trip. As the plan was for them to leave at 2:30 in the morning, spend the day in the freezing weather, and then drive back in the evening, I passed. I did have a twinge of jealousy when I saw the gorgeous photos Andrei’s wife took, but not enough to really make me regret my decision to stay warm and cozy at home. Here are some of those photos. The boys had a really good time.

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There are more pictures here.

They got home safe and sound, sans fish, but looking forward to going again!

Summer SoCal Visit 2016

On August 1st, the boys and I packed up the van and headed to SoCal for a week’s visit. Our first stop was an overnight visit in Altadena with the Kimble/Randall family. The boys were ecstatic — particularly Ezra, who misses Jack a lot. They spent most of the afternoon in the pool.

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They also enjoyed sharing their latest and greatest video games and apps.

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We went to dinner at our old haunt, El Patron, but I was too busy enjoying the good food and company to take any pictures. After a good night’s sleep, the boys spent the morning doing the same things they’d done the afternoon before — screens and pool.

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We went to lunch at Du-par’s (new to Pasadena since we left) and enjoyed the best pancakes and french toast around. Jack and Ezra continued to acquaint each other with their latest obsessions.

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After a couple of quick stops in Pasadena, we hit the freeway again and made our way to our final destination in Laguna Beach. When I’d asked the boys earlier in the summer what they wanted to make sure to do while we were in Laguna, they looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Beach time.” (Duh.) So, that first afternoon we wasted little time before hitting the beach. Happy children (and moms) all around.

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After several hours on the beach and a thorough de-sanding back at the house, we had dinner on the deck. I think the kids were making menus here.

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Cari and I had a plan to avoid too much kid screen time this year by getting them out for early excursions. Our first one was Wednesday morning when we packed up all the bikes and drove to Del Obispo Community Park in Dana Point. Cari and I had walked the bike path up to San Juan Capistrano when I came for the short visit in June. It was a lovely, flat path that we thought the kids would enjoy riding — especially with the promise of brunch at Ruby’s Diner at the end. Well, the best laid plans … Poor Cari had all sorts of trouble with her new bike and got quite a workout before her brakes were properly adjusted. Pedaling is hard enough without having your brakes constantly rubbing your wheels. The other main problem was the closure of the bike path, which detoured us onto regular streets. They weren’t terrible, but it wasn’t the quiet, pleasant route Cari and I had experienced.

At any rate, we finally got there, found the dismal bike parking, and had a nice breakfast. The whole thing was hectic enough that I have no pictures from the ride. After breakfast we decided to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, which, I have to say, was amazing. Given that Finn will be studying the California Missions this year as part of the standard fourth grade curriculum, I thought it was great timing for this visit. They had a craft table where the kids made corn husk dolls.

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When they were finished, we got our audio tours going and walked around the grounds on a self-guided tour. Or rather, three self-guided tours as the big kids, little kids, and adults all headed in separate directions.

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It’s really an interesting and very well preserved place. Here are some shots of the buildings and grounds.

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Finally we managed to gather everyone together for an attempt at a picture with the bells. It wasn’t easy.

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After a trip through the gift shop (we escaped without buying anything!) we retrieved the bikes and started our ride back. I have one photo of some of our cyclists.

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The ride back was about three miles but took much less time and seemed much shorter now that all of the problems had been worked out. I think the kids were all pleasantly surprised that it was quick and easy.

In the afternoon we headed back to the beach with the new boogie boards Cari had picked up at Costco on the way home from the bike ride.

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There were conventional and unconventional uses for the boards.

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Back at the house, we enjoyed the sunset from the deck.

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After another nice dinner, we instituted an early bedtime. This is Finn, passed out before 9:00 pm, the sign of a successful day.

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Thursday’s adventure was to San Diego, where we stopped for burgers …

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… and a carousel ride …

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… before walking along the waterfront over to the USS Midway.

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Once onboard this enormous “City at Sea” as they call it, we quickly discovered that a) they have a Junior Pilot program for kids (answer some questions about the ship and earn wings), b) the map was not exactly easy to follow, and c) the kids wanted to give up on the Junior Pilot program. Cari and I encouraged (forced?) them to continue and it turned out to be a pretty good way to see the main parts of the ship. Here are some photos from our tour.

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As evidenced by this photo of Ruby, she was not at all happy with the part of the tour that took us pretty deep into the bowels of the ship.

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She was a good sport and managed a smile here.

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It was super hot and claustrophobic at this point, and it took us a while to wind our way back up to fresh air. The boys were OK and particularly enjoyed the area with the anchor and the knot-tying demonstrations.

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We passed through officers’ quarters, the kitchen, sick bay, and lots of other places. They liked this room a lot — can’t remember what it’s called but it had a lot of cool gadgets.

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We finally made our way to the flight deck, and even though we’d all just about it had enough for the day, we looked around at the enormous array of planes and took in the views.

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With some arm-twisting, we’d managed to finish the Junior Pilot program so the kids got sworn in and got their wings.

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The drive back to Laguna was loaded with traffic, so we stopped part way and got dinner at a hipster pizza place. We made it back safely, exhausted from a great day.

The next day, Friday, we made our traditional pilgrimage by trolley to the candy store. Here are the boys enjoying their huge bags of candy. I’m not sure how they always manage to get so much more than I mean for them to get.

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In the afternoon we went back for more beach time. It’s really too bad that the kids don’t enjoy each other’s company at all.

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Ezra spent a lot of time digging a giant hole.

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That evening after putting the kids to bed I picked up Bruce from the airport. We were so happy he was able to join us this trip since the last two trips have been thwarted by work. No Google interference this time though; he was ours for the weekend!

We went to Balboa Island on Saturday, something Cari and I do a lot with the kids but we’ve never had the dads join. After taking the ferry over to the island, the first stop, as usual, was the arcade.

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Ruby won the jackpot, which is amazing since Chapin won it not long ago. Lucky kids!

We then had lunch, rented a couple of bikes for Rob and Bruce, and took a bike ride on the along the beach. I thought it went OK, but we were a big group and it was super crowded, so not my favorite ride. Plus, my pedal broke off which was unfortunate. Luckily Bruce took one for the team and switched bikes with me. He made good time riding back. We hopped on the ferry again and made our way back to Laguna.

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Of course, there was another great dinner and a gorgeous sunset.

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To top it off, we had stackers for dessert.

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The kids (of all ages) were in heaven.

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For our last beach day, we packed up everything we thought we could possibly need and drove to Dana Point. It was another beautiful day.

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I could’ve stayed for another week but sadly we had to get home, so on Monday morning we packed up for the drive. We stopped at Zankou Chicken in Pasadena for lunch (oh, how we miss Zankou), and then hit the road for real. Ezra had his first middle school event the next day. What a great trip this was; the best way to finish off our summer vacation!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

After our fantastic day in Redding and Shasta, we finally arrived in Lassen in the late afternoon. Once we found our campsite at the Summit Lake South campground, we pretty much had time to set up camp …

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Build a fire …

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And make a quick dinner (the boys’ favorite camping meal: hot dogs).

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Of course there was marshmallow roasting later and some relaxation time. We’d treated our clothes with some mosquito repellant so we were actually able to sit outside without getting bitten to pieces. (We’d heard that the mosquitos were horrible, but we actually came away with only a couple of bites.)

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The next morning after breakfast, we dragged the boys away from their whittling …

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… and took a walk by the lake. The landscape is stunning so I’m just going to post a bunch of photos here.

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After our walk, we packed up some lunch and drove to Manzanita Lake where we rented kayaks and paddled around the lake.

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It was a beautiful day.

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After the kayaking, Bruce and Finn tried paddle boarding.

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Ezra just wanted to walk around in the water. Can’t hardly blame him.

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They did all take a swim a little later at another area of the lake.

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Next we went to the Loomis Museum and the boys did part of their Junior Ranger activity. We then hiked the short Lily Pond Trail and stopped for lunch.

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On the drive back to our campsite, we stopped at Hot Rock which is a 30-ton chunk of rock that was swept from Lassen Peak to its current location in the 1915 eruptions.

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Climbing ensued, of course.

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Next we went to the Devastated Area which had a short hike with lots of stops explaining the 1915 eruptions with before and after photos.

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Of course, nature is rebounding in this area, but it is still a shadow of the mature forest that was destroyed in 1915.

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The stop along the trail explaining “puzzled rocks” was of particular interest to the boys.

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Back at the campsite, we had a little time to relax (with more whittling).

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And then the boys went swimming at the lake. (I, like an idiot, had decided not to bring a swim suit because we thought the water would be too cold. I won’t make that mistake again.) While they were gone I read my book and watched this curious squirrel look for food we might have left behind.

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Later there were the usual evening activities.

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We called it pretty early as we were all tired from the day’s activities.

The next morning Finn did some reading.

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Ezra did some playing in the muddy water.

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And then we packed up for our big activity of the day, hiking the Bumpass Hell trail. It was a perfect hike for us — a little over 2.5 miles, mostly easy terrain although occasionally challenging, with spectacular views. There was still snow on the ground, and, in fact, the trail had only been opened for the season a few days before we arrived. Good timing as it was definitely a highlight of our trip.

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The payoff of “all the walking” (as the boys would say) is the Bumpass Hell area which is chock full of fumaroles and mudpots, reminding us there is all sorts of stuff going on under the surface of the earth that we normally can’t see. It was fascinating, and easily accessible with boardwalks (and lots of warnings to stay on the boardwalks or risk burn injuries!).

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Here’s a five-second video of one of the boiling mudpots.

And here’s another ten-second video.

After we’d explored the boardwalk areas, we went to the lookout point above. Google Photos stitched together my individual pictures to make this panorama of the whole thing.

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Finally, we headed back out.

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We’d arrived pretty early and mostly had the trail to ourselves, but as we were leaving it was quite crowded so we were happy we’d gotten an early start.

After the hike, we took a break in the parking lot for snacks and more work on the Junior Ranger activities.

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On the way to Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, we stopped at Sulfur Works to see (and smell, ack!) some big sulfur pots. It was super interesting, although a little unpleasant when a big poof of sulfury steam gets right up your nose.

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I made the boys pose for a picture.

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I don’t have any pictures from the visitor center but we had a great time there. It’s very well done, with good activities for the kids and a beautiful setting. The boys really did a lot of work for their Junior Ranger badges this time. Here they are being “sworn in.”

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They got cool badges with the notation that it’s the National Park centennial this year.

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On the way back north to our campsite, we stopped at Emerald Lake at my request. The lakes just looked so inviting and I had to stick my feet in. Finn was too worn out so he waited in the car, but Ezra was game.

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That evening we went to a ranger-led activity at our campground, which was a very interesting presentation about all sorts of living things that have behind-the-scenes functions in the forest that are vital to its survival. The ranger did a great job involving all the kids in the audience and it was a fun presentation. I didn’t take any photos during the presentation, but here are a few from our walk over to the amphitheater.

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The next morning we had avocado toast for breakfast …

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… and then packed up our site and headed for home. A year ago I’d never heard of Lassen, but it was so spectacular I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to visit one of our National Parks.

Redding and Shasta

Our second and final camping trip of the summer was to Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, since it’s about a 4-5 hour drive northeast of us we decided to drive up the day before the camping started and stay overnight in Redding. We had a surprisingly good time on this initial stop! We arrived in the late afternoon and, after grabbing what we needed from the van, we took a little walk around.

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Mostly the kids just wanted to try out Pokemon Go, but Bruce’s phone was dying and the phone the kids use needs wifi, so that didn’t last very long.

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We had dinner at a Mexican place near our hotel and walked around a little more after dinner before crashing. As an aside, I love this shot of all of our bikes crowding up the hotel room. I’m paranoid about them being stolen from the bike rack, so we brought them in.

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After breakfast at the hotel the next morning we took off on a bike ride on the Sacramento River Trail. It was a lovely ride, mostly flat but with a few hills to make sure we were paying attention. Here are some shots from along the way.

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The boys really liked the ribbon bridge and we rode across it several times.

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Sadly, we had some technical difficulties on the way back. My left pedal fell off and because the crank was stripped inside it wouldn’t go back on. Thankfully Bruce managed to MacGyver his pedal on my bike (they attach differently) and my pedal went on his bike.

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So, feeling a little uneven, we managed to make it back to the hotel.

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After getting cleaned up and packed, we checked out of the hotel, but we weren’t ready to leave Redding just yet. We headed over to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which we’d read good things about. It didn’t disappoint. First stop was the Sundial Bridge, which is super cool and very hard to photograph!

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This is my best outcome from many attempts to get it all in one picture.

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And it was perfectly accurate!

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We explored the inside of the museum too — good thing because it was about a million degrees outside. Lots of cool science and music stuff.

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When we were done inside we made one last stop outside at the Parrot Playhouse to see the lorikeets. Ezra loved this part.

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Bruce, too.

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Here’s a short video of a couple of the birds fighting for Bruce’s offering.

After Redding our initial plan had been to go straight to Lassen, but we decided on one more detour — to Shasta Dam. I’m glad we changed the plan because it was quite impressive.

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Lake Shasta with Mount Shasta in the background:

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We missed the tour but did spend some time in the visitors center which included footage from Huell Howser’s show about it. Very interesting, but still incredibly hot outside, so we were happy to get back into the air conditioned van and drive to our final destination.

Mt. Tamalpais Camping Trip

In our efforts to explore north of us, we scheduled two camping trips this summer. The first one — to Mt. Tamalpais State Park near Marin — was at the end of June. We stayed at the Steep Ravine campground, a small area with limited amenities but gorgeous views. First, though, a little bit about our drive up. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge while it was half covered in fog, an iconic view that I made Bruce take a picture of (since I was driving). He loves it when I make him take pictures.

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We stopped for lunch and a walk around Marin before heading west to the campground.

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The campground is on the cliffs overlooking the ocean (awesome!)…

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… but you have to park in the lot and haul all your stuff to your site via wheel barrows (not so awesome!).

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The boys were thrilled.

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We took a quick exploratory walk. This view was ten steps from our campsite.

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After we were settled in, we hit the beach.

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Here’s our destination.

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And the way to get to it … not easy!

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But it was definitely worth the hassle of climbing over the rocks. A beautiful, quiet, sunny beach is my happy place.

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The boys love it too.

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They flew kites.

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And dug holes.

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And got surprise-attacked by cold waves.

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After a while we headed back up to the campsite for dry clothes and food; then we did a little more exploring.

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Back at the site, there was whittling.

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And tree-climbing.

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And deer-sighting.

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And an early campfire — it was colder than we’d expected.

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After the boys’ favorite camping dinner (hotdogs) we turned in early because we were all freezing and just wanted to get in our sleeping bags.

The night included a raccoon invasion that Finn and I slept through. Bruce and Ezra woke up, though, and knew those pesky pests were going after our food so they got up to fight them off. The rascals couldn’t get into our cooler or food container, thankfully, but we must have left a loaf of bread out although neither of us remembers getting it out of the box. They ripped it apart.

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It was clear from the box that they had made a valiant effort to open that too.

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A little while later when the boys and I were snuggled up in the tent (it was still so cold!) and I had dozed off, Bruce starting yelling at us to get up because there was a whale close by. Despite being startled awake, which is not my favorite thing, I was happy to have the opportunity to see the whale. It was amazing — he stayed out there for a long time feeding. I tried to get a good shot, but you can’t tell where he’s going to come up until he’s already up and my reflexes aren’t that fast. But here are a couple of shots.

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Once we’d had enough of whale watching, we took a hike around the campground as the fog started to lift.

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As soon as the sun was fully out, we headed back down to the beach for several hours.

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Finally, after the boys were soaked and every morsel of food had been eaten, we trekked back up to the campsite for chips and salsa. And dry clothes.

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And views! I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

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In the evening, we had another campfire, burritos for dinner, and, of course, roasted marshmallows. We were all pretty tired, though, and turned in early again. Did I mention that the tent was on an incline? Not the best sleeping situation, but we didn’t have another choice. It was comical how much the boys slid down during the night … right off their pillows.

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The raccoons came back for a second try, as evidenced by the paw prints all over the cooler, but we’d thwarted their attempts and they got nothing! Nothing! We, however, had a lovely breakfast of avocado toast.

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As usual, after a couple of nights of camping we were ready to get home (or maybe that’s just me). So we packed everything up pretty quickly and hit the road. Or … maybe not. We were pulling out of the campground when Bruce noticed a trailhead across the road. So, we parked the car and, much to the boys’ dismay, started walking on the Steep Ravine Trail.

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Pretty soon the boys came around and we all had a nice time on the hike.

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It was a great way to end our first trip of the summer.

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Mojave Camping Trip

Last weekend we took a four-day camping trip to the Mojave National Preserve with Vanessa and Thomas. (Bob, unfortunately, had to stay at home due to a work emergency. He was missed.) I was worried about the 8-plus hour drive (!) and the inconsistent weather reports, but Bruce was really keen on making the trip. I’m so glad we did — it was an adventure-filled weekend.

We had the car mostly packed on Thursday night, and even though we got a later start than we wanted (those darn bikes take so much time to load!) we were still on the road before 7:00 a.m. Good thing, because it took us all day to get there. It’s just so, so far! Vanessa arrived an hour or two before we did and picked out a great spot. Upon our arrival, we started setting up our tent while the boys immediately engaged in a Nerf battle.

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We were concerned about the ominous clouds rolling in and it was getting very cold. We heated up dinner and ate in our tent. Ezra had the right idea to keep warm.

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We were snuggled in the tent for a couple of hours listening to the storm outside when we realized it was actually snowing. It was a very cold night but we managed to get a little rest, and in the morning we woke to clear skies and desert beauty.

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I took a walk around the campground to get some additional shots.

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We finally managed to get the water hot enough for coffee and hot chocolate to warm us up a bit. Finn hadn’t transitioned into wearing jeans yet, but it was about to happen.

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As the morning warmed up, the boys had a great time throwing snowballs and scraping the snow off of the cars.

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Then they went on a short bike ride around the campground while the adults figured out a game plan for the day.

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We settled on a rockhounding outing, packed up stuff for lunch, and headed out. We weren’t sure how the roads would be, and some parts said a 4-wheel drive car was necessary which was a bit of a problem since we couldn’t all fit in our Subaru and Vanessa’s car is 2-wheel drive. But we gave it a shot. Almost immediately after turning off the main road, she was stuck.

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The Subaru struggled too, but we made it far enough to realize we were in the wrong place. Luckily we kept going and got back around to where Vanessa was. Bruce had a plan to dig her car out and got to work.

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While I made lunch for the boys, Bruce and Vanessa worked to get mats and rocks under the tires so her car could gain some traction. The fix worked, but I feel like a failure as a documentarian that I don’t have video of her hightailing it out of the sand in reverse!

We ended up heading back out the main road to try to find the correct offshoot to the rockhounding place. The guide books are vague and I think the map hadn’t been updated, so it was a challenge. We left Vanessa’s car at the main road, she and Thomas piled in the back seat with us, and we headed out over the bumpy but not quite as sandy terrain. We eventually found what we thought could be the right place, and we got out and started hunting.

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Our trusty steed served us well again.

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Once we’d had enough rockhounding, we piled into the car and headed back out the dirt road. I was just dozing off when Bruce slammed on the brakes and scared us all half to death. Turns out, he spotted a desert tortoise in the road and stopped just in time. They are endangered and in all his time in the desert he’s never seen one. Of course, none of the rest of us had ever seen one either.

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He wasn’t very big and was comically slow; he barely moved the whole time we watched him. And we watched him for quite a while as we were trying to decide if we should move him out of the road. Bruce knew that you’re not supposed to pick them up, and since the road was wide enough that we could get around him, that’s what we did. We were, of course, worried about leaving him in the road, but since we hadn’t seen another soul the whole afternoon we thought it would be OK.

Eventually we left the tortoise and found Vanessa’s car. She took the boys and went back to the campsite; Bruce and I stopped at a local store to buy firewood because we hadn’t brought any and we couldn’t go another night without a campfire. We had dinner by the fire.

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And a mini birthday celebration for Ezra with cupcakes and Thomas playing Happy Birthday on the ukulele.

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Even with the fire it was super cold so we didn’t last too long outside. We’d learned our lesson, though, and bundled up in layers for bed.

Sunday’s excursion was Kelso Dunes with a stop at the Visitor Center first. The boys filled out their Junior Ranger booklets outside.

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Then we took a quick tour of the center, they got their badges and patches for being Junior Rangers, and spent some time in the Kelso jail.

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Next stop was the Kelso Dunes, that big giant pile of sand Bruce is walking to.

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The day was spectacular.

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Lots of wildflowers were popping up.

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It wasn’t the most exciting walk ever …

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… but once we stopped for a break and the boys played in the sand, they were happy.

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I waited with the boys while Bruce made the difficult climb to the top. Then we all walked back to the cars and drove back to the campsite. After more Nerf battles …

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… Bruce and I took the boys on a little hike while Vanessa made gumbo for dinner. The landscape was mostly burned out from a 2005 fire but it makes for interesting scenery.

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Once back at the site, we got the fire going and had dinner.

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The boys had lots of s’mores and had a super fun time roasting Peeps.

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Thomas made a marshmallow sculpture (and got the thumbs up photo bomb from Ezra).

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The next morning we had a delicious “griddle fest” breakfast and packed everything up to get on the road. Bruce and I decided to stop at the Pisgah Crater on the way home which was quite a sight.

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The boys (all three of them) got some lava samples to add to our other rockhounding specimens.

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Here’s our total haul, spread out on the dining room table once we got back.

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The ride home was long and slow due to high winds and extra stops for gas. But we made it safely and have some great memories from the Mojave!

Christmas in Belize, Part 5

We spent the last couple of days of the trip on the mainland after saying goodbye to Jamma on December 27th and flying over to municipal airport. We’d booked a rental car for our first foray into driving on the mainland by ourselves. This Honda CRV was our trusty steed for the next two days.

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We had a two hour drive from Belize City to our hotel for the first night, Cahal Pech Village Resort. We stopped about halfway there for lunch at Amigo’s, a place we’d been to a few times before. It looked exactly the same. There’s never been a crowd when we’ve been there, but we assume all those tables are to accommodate large numbers of people from cruise ships.

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We made it to the hotel about 2:00, which should have been check in time, but they were running a little late. So we waited around (for over an hour!) until they finally had our room ready. The grounds are wonderful — high up on the hill so that you can see the valley below, and lots of little casitas as accommodations.

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Our room, however, wasn’t great — it had a broken lock and was just kind of crappy. Oh, and it had an overwhelming smell of pot. Overwhelming. It would have been funny if it weren’t so smelly. We complained to the front desk and they fixed the lock and “freshened up the room” since they didn’t have anywhere else to put us. It was marginally better and was fine for one night. It did have a hammock.

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While the room was being “freshened” we walked a short ways down to the Mayan ruin that the resort is named for. It’s one of the smaller ruin sites and we’d visited it last time we were in Belize. We hired a guide who showed us around. Here are some photos.

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I love all the arches in their buildings.

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As always, we climbed up a pretty steep incline … and it’s always the way back down that’s the scariest.

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When we finished our visit we bought a few souvenirs at their little gift shop and then went back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner we broke out Exploding Kittens again and had a grand old time.

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After a pretty good night’s sleep we enjoyed breakfast at the buffet and then spent some time at the pool. I snapped another shot of the view on the way to the pool — so lovely.

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The boys really enjoyed the pool.

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When it was time to check out, we packed up and drove down the hill to our next destination, the Green Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

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We got a great tour there — very informative and hands on. Ezra made a new friend.

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So did Bruce.

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Finn and I preferred to keep them at arm’s length, but enjoyed feeding them.

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Lots of iguanas!

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Once we were done with the iguanas, we had lunch at the hotel and started our drive to our next destination. Along the way I shot a short video of the Belizean road.

Our hotel for the night was called Cheers. We’d never been there before, but it’s sort of a jack-of-all-trades restaurant, farm, and hotel with three little cabanas they rent out. We got this one.

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It was small but nice (except for the no hot water thing) and the owners and staff were all really friendly. They even have a little playground off to the side of the restaurant. Of course, Ezra hit the swing.

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After a restful afternoon and an early dinner at Cheers, we went to the Belize Zoo for a night tour. It was great to see some of the nocturnal animals being more active than they are during the day. I had a heck of a time getting any good photos, but it was a great experience. Here are a few photos.

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The main attraction for me is the black jaguar, Lucky Boy, who we saw last time when he had only been at the zoo for a few months after his rescue. He looks great. And totally fierce.

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Ezra took this shot.

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Between his dark coat and the fence, night shots are nearly impossible. Some of the other cats were easier to photograph.

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The owls were also up.

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After the zoo tour we went back to our cabana and slept well. In the morning we got a tour of the Cheers farm from the owner Chrissy. The baby pigs were a favorite.

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There were also goats.

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And lots and lots of fowl — chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks …

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They had an old school bus repurposed as their house.

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After the farm tour we went back to the zoo to see the daytime animals, like the scarlet macaw.

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The toucan.

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The harpy eagle.

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And Lucky Boy in all his glory. It’s so wonderful to see how well he’s recovered.

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We stopped to watch the spider monkeys for a while.

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And then we were done. We went back to Cheers to have one last meal and pack up our things. We made it to the airport on time and returned the rental car. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, which we knew, but it kept getting more and more delayed. By the time we finally left, we held out little hope that we would make our connection in Houston. However, as luck would have it, that flight was delayed as well so we actually made it through customs and the luggage shuffle and ended up having to wait for the second flight. We finally made it home about 3:00 am. Our house was freezing and the kids were so tired they couldn’t see straight, but we had several days to rest up before school and work started up again.

We had a mini Christmas the next morning and the boys were thrilled to open the rest of their presents.

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Great trip!

Christmas in Belize, Part 4

Christmas Eve! The timing of this holiday was very disorienting, I have to say. After rushing to get all of the presents bought and shipped, Christmas cards mailed, and all our stuff packed, it seemed like we should have been right at Christmas upon our arrival in Belize. But in reality we had a week to go, so finally, finally Christmas Eve arrived.

I had to laugh at Ezra, upon opening the last day of his Trader Joe’s chocolate advent calendar, it became clear that he had saved all of the days’ chocolates. As I’ve said before, that boy would definitely pass the marshmallow test.

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He proceeded to eat them all in one sitting.

After breakfast we embarked on our snorkeling trip. We had a general plan but were leaving the specifics up in the air because it was windy and the sea was pretty choppy. We weren’t sure how we’d all do in the boat (mostly Finn and I, the long suffering motion sickies) or if the sea would be too stirred up for good snorkeling. We had a new boat captain, Sergio, who took us north looking for a good spot. He found a pretty good one but the ride had taken a while and Finn and I weren’t feeling so good. Finn was worse and I knew from personal experience that we just needed to get him off the boat. At this point the boat was just sitting in the water bobbing up and down, the worst possible scenario after the ride.

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Finally, we all got out. Bruce, Ezra and I snorkeled around with Sergio. Finn hung onto the circle and got towed around. As I thought, he felt much better once he was in the water.

Because I actually participate in the snorkeling, I end up with few pictures. I have a few from when we got back on the boat.

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After the first stop, we went for a break and lunch at Tranquility Bay Resort.

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We had a little time to kill before they opened for lunch, so we took a walk up the beach.

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There were some free coconuts, which is kind of funny because the whole island is filled with free coconuts.

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And there was this boat on a deserted property that had apparently been there so long that a tree had grown in it.

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After lunch we decided to try another snorkeling spot and headed to Mexico Rocks. I wasn’t very encouraged because the first spot had been just OK due to the water being so murky. But in the end I was very glad we tried the second time — the water was much clearer, there was more of the reef to see, and we finally convinced Finn to put on his mask and snorkel. Even Jamma got in the water. We all had a great time!

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And Finn got to drive the boat.

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Once back from snorkeling, our task was to make Coconut Bannings. We were missing our Christmas Eve celebration with the Bannings, and in the grand tradition of Paperplate Bruce, we had decided that we needed some stand-ins. The boys collected coconuts and all sorts of decorative items from the property, and we all made our counterpart. Here’s Ezra with his Ruby.

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And here’s all four of them: Rob and Cari on top, Ruby and Chapin on the bottom.

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Later, just as we were getting ready to cook dinner, the power went out. And stayed out. For about four hours, and then off and on all night. So, our non-traditional Christmas Eve continued with chips and salsa for dinner and reading by iPad light.

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In the morning the boys were understandably anxious to head up stairs and see if “Santa” made it to Belize. They not-so-patiently waited on the stairs for all of the adults to get out of bed.

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When they did get upstairs, they didn’t really know where to look for their presents and ended up missing them completely. Finally, they found the iPad (Ezra) and the computer (Finn) sitting neatly on the table and they were pretty excited. They didn’t have much to open as we’d only brought a few presents with us — games from Jamma, new Google t-shirts, and stockings. Here’s everyone having a look at their stocking stuffers.

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The boys spent most of the day enjoying unlimited screen time on their new electronics, with intermittent breaks for swimming with the neighbor kids.

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In the late afternoon we enjoyed Christmas dinner — turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots, coleslaw, and pumpkin pie.

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After a few rousing games of Exploding Kittens and King of Tokyo we went out to the dock to check out the Christmas full moon.

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The next day we had to go to town to return the golf cart, so we stopped at Estel’s for breakfast on the beach. Here’s Ezra showing off his giant fry jacks.

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And Finn making quick work of his pancakes.

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One last bit of goofing around in the golf cart …

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… a few souvenirs purchased, and we were on the water taxi headed back to Jamma’s so we could pack for our departure the next day.