Badass (A Poem)

Does anyone know when the rules changed?

When once women

smiled upon, praises heaped

for her whispers, powder-soft feminine grace

delicate charms

rewarded for fragility

her tears like treasures raining from lowered lashes

Stay pretty, they told us.

We were cherished once

honored

Bought, never borrowed

safe beneath his wing.

Until

the world thought it best to change the picture

sudden shift

grafitti-marred brick wall displays

the new Femme Fatale

strong, savage beauty

clad in black leather

full lips like blood, eyes like flames.

Though born soft, she is tossed in the arena

to fight alone

Badass

Rogue

Swallow the dark elixir they feed us

inject fantasy into our skin like tattoos

Be HER, they tell us.

Buffy, Katniss, Khaleesi

Forge the spirit of Athena

the hardness of the Amazons.

Fight with the strength of a man

dance the lead like a man

be ever more like a man

but stay…

pretty.

female warrior

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Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Think Fast! (aka: Improvisation in the Great Outdoors)

3 paddleboarders

What would you do?

One idyllic summer morning, you’re rowing your paddleboard across the middle of a large, sparkling blue lake. It occurs to you that you and your children have around 30 minutes left to return to shore and turn in your rental equipment. You row toward two of your children and give them the signal, and they begin rowing back. That’s when you notice that your youngest child has drifted away to the farthest shore. You call him back, but he is unable to turn his paddleboard around. He is stuck. You paddle hard in his direction and show him how to steer his board.

“I can’t do it!” he wails, drifting further away.

Time to think fast. Do you:

  1. Give him kind and loving encouragement (Come on, kiddo, you’ve got this!)
  2. Turn it into a fun adventure (The pirates are after us! We’ve got to escape the island!)
  3. Transform into a drill sergeant (Failure is not an option, soldier! Now row, row ROW!)

My answer: All of the above. Because sometimes you have to improvise until you find the best way to solve the problem. Sadly, all of these ideas failed, so in the end, I deserted his paddle board at a nearby marina and rowed my distraught little sailor back to safety twenty minutes after our time was up. But still, I tried.

What would you do? BearImprovisation. That is one of the great things about going camping with kids. In our complacent suburban lives, we don’t often come across so many opportunities to put our improvisational skills to the test. Sure, we have small moments when we have to make decisions on the fly (Pizza or hamburgers? Comedy or action film?), or minor breakdowns that cause us inconvenience, like when a tire goes flat (Stop and replace it or call roadside assistance?).

3 happy kiddos Mount Shasta

My 3 actual kiddos in front of said idyllic lake. Yes, this location was pretty-much perfect. Except for the thunderstorms.

But while camping many miles from home and supermarkets and people that we know, we have to learn to rely on ourselves. When things go wrong, especially when you are the only adult, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wilderness, the ability to reach into your mental (or physical) toolbox and problem solve can be a matter of life or death.

Okay, not really life or death. Unless there are bears and you’re out of bear spray. Because yeah, you could totally give up and go home. But quitting and going home is for losers.

Here are a few times when improvisation saved our most recent camping vacation:

Problem:         One of the fiberglass tent poles for our screen house splintered, rendering it unusable.

Solution:         Duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Duct tape can fix pretty much anything while camping. And if it doesn’t, then use more duct tape.

Problem:         We accidentally forgot to pack two meals’ worth of food.

Solution:         Our camp store just happened to sell eggs. Do you realize how many great meals you can make with eggs? Egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, French toast… If that hadn’t worked, well, there were a lot of ground squirrels around. Just kidding. Kind of.

Problem:         Our tent zipper broke. As in, it came off completely.

Solution:         You thought I was going to say duct tape, didn’t you? That was plan B. We ended up using clothespins to clip the door closed. It did the job.

Of course, we had no way to solve the problem of our noisy campsite neighbors with their obnoxious kids and loud mariachi music. (Geez, did it have to be mariachi music? Talk about torture!).

I probably could have improvised – you know, talk to them and ask them to tone it down. Or offer them egg sandwiches. Or capture a few ground squirrels and set them free in their camp. But for all I know, that family could have improvised, too, by chasing me away with a can of bear spray, or worse, cranking up their mariachi music even louder.

That’s when we would have called it quits and headed home.

Dried Up (aka: Surviving The California Drought)

The Great Drought“I remember way back in the olden days,” says the old woman in a quavery voice, “before California transformed into the Great Western Desert.” She leans back in her chair and looks at the children gathered around her, their eyes filled with wonder. “The lush rolling hills. The sparkling lakes. Back when we had so much water…” She leans in close and drops her voice. “People used to water their lawns nearly every day, just to keep them green.”

The children scream in horror. Who would do such a thing?

Okay, okay, a little melodramatic, perhaps. But seriously…here we are, in the middle of one of California’s worst droughts in recent history, and still I’ve noticed people watering their front lawns to keep them as green as Astroturf. Old habits die hard.

save water save the earthFresh water. It’s one of those things that we privileged Americans take for granted. Fresh water to drink. Fresh water for showers and car washing and dog washing. Fresh water to keep the lawns green. Fresh water to waste. And waste it we do. From hosing down our walkways to ignoring our leaky pipes, we are great at finding ways to pretend that fresh water is not a precious resource. Unluckily, our great state is exploring a few desperate options to get us through this dry spell, such as the Toilet to Tap program. Yes, this is exactly as it sounds – wastewater that is treated so that it can be reused. (Time to buy stock in bottled water, folks). But luckily, our great state is also doing a few things right, like making it a crime to be caught wasting water. But still, not everyone grasps the importance.

Reduce your UseAs it’s nearly Earth Day, and also because I love California and would prefer to not see it turn into a total desert, I will share a few tips that everyone – not only Californians – can follow to help conserve the one thing that no human can live without – fresh water.

  • Water your garden early in the morning, or in the evening after the weather has cooled.
  • Use a broom to clean your driveway or walkway instead of the hose.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry. Use the lightest wash cycle for lightly soiled clothes. Consider replacing your old, inefficient washer with a new, water-saving machine.
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher.
  • The toilet – remember the old motto, Californians? “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
  • Repair leaky faucets, pipes, and toilets. Those tiny drips may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised by how quickly they add up!
  • Cut your showers. Many medical experts agree that showering every other day is ideal. In fact, showering daily can actually be harmful to the skin. Can’t deal with the lighter shower schedule? Try cutting back your shower length to 5 minutes or less.
  • You’ve heard it a million times – don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth. Or shaving. You can even turn it off while scrubbing your hands, then turn it on again to rinse.
  • Try rinsing your fresh produce in a bowl, then reusing that water to water the plants.

Remember: Save water – it will save you later.

   Water is life

Autumn Worship (And Other Things That Don’t Make Sense)

Autumn is my favorite season. Of all the changes that occur throughout the year, the shift that happens between summer and winter is the most striking. Lush green begins to curl and change, then bursts into a brilliant golden rainbow, before turning cold and letting go of life. It is like watching an entire life pass by over a span of three months. autumn samplr from tumblr

I am not alone in this. One glance at my Tumblr dashboard is enough to see that I am surrounded by autumn-worshipers. Colorful leaves! Fall scarves and boots! Hot chai and flavored lattes! In a way, it is an odd thing, the way so many of us celebrate autumn. Why autumn? When you think about it, it is summer that we really love. Summer, when we are all at our best. Summer when our leaves are lush and green, and the skies are clear blue and easy, and we still produce fruit and our gardens are filled with flowers. Summer, when the sun hardly stops shining, and we play, and feast, and stretch out our bare toes and sleep, warm and lazy beneath the stars. season shift

When it is summer, we think that it will be summer forever. Then autumn creeps up so quietly, that we barely notice until the middle of the change. Suddenly, our lush green is streaked with rust and gold and crimson and amber. Our flowers hang, dried, upon the walls. The air is still warm, but there is something different – a coolness that makes us shiver. A warning.

Winter is coming.

The very idea terrifies us. We want to change the clocks. We want to turn and run back down the hill, but those warm summer valleys are already gone, enshrouded in gray fog. The season has slipped away. We can remember the summer. We can paint it, and sing it, and capture it in stories, but we can never keep it. Winter must come, and winter will come. colorful autumn leaves

So we accept the autumn. We learn to appreciate the season in a new way. We sip cider and spiced tea. We illuminate our homes with pumpkin cinnamon candlelight as the days grow shorter. When the fickle sun hides her face from the world, we warm ourselves with memories of summer. As the shadows lengthen, we choose to honor the night. We hold hands and face the dark together. And as nature displays her last colorful show, we cheer the loudest of all – perhaps because we know that it is our last chance to celebrate before winter claims us.

(Sorry for ruining the seriousness of this post with this image, but I couldn't resist. ;) )

(Sorry for ruining the seriousness of this post with this image, but I couldn’t resist. 😉 )

Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Hidden Treasure in Your Neighborhood (aka: Geocaching)


Did you know that buried treasures are hidden all around your community? In your local parks, beside creeks, along dusty trails, and even in crowded shopping mall parking lots. In every community, and all around the world, there are hidden caches just waiting for you to come along and find them. All you need is a GPS device, and you, too, can join the great treasure hunt.

Geocache Box full of treasure

A traditional geocache, filled with hidden treasures

Geocaching has been one of our family hobbies for around ten years. The sport itself is fairly new, though it is related to Letterboxing, an activity which has been around since the 19th century. To begin the search, you must have a GPS Device, or a cell phone with GPS capability. For years, our family has used a Garmin eTrex Legend Cx.

Garmin eTrex cx Legend

It is not as fancy as some of the newer, pricier devices on the market today, but it works well. Lately, we’ve begun to use the official Groundspeak geocaching app for iPhone. It costs around $10, but it is very user-friendly and convenient.

Groundspeak app

Once you have a GPS device, you are ready to begin the search. You can look up hidden caches on the Geocaching.com website, or on your app. Read the details before you choose, as some caches are harder than others, and there are different types of caches. Some are mini-caches, which are tiny containers, like film canisters, which contain no more than a log book. Some are historical or nature caches, which do not involve a hidden container, but lead you to an important monument, or statue, or a breathtaking view of nature.

Fun for the whole family

Our favorite is the traditional cache. This are usually a camouflaged coffee can or other sealed container. Inside, you will find a log book and pencil, so that you can sign your name. There are also various treasures within, which you are welcome to take, but you must leave a treasure in its place. You never know what you will find — sometimes McToys, or golden dollars, or a ball to toss around with your kids. Some of the caches have a theme, like Disney paraphernalia, pet toys, or holiday items. Occasionally, you may find a “Travel Bug,” or a hitchhiking keychain with an imprinted code and a traveling goal. You can log in to report your find, and then move the travel bug to a new cache and follow its progress online. Our family has our first travel bug — a medieval Playmobil soldier who has managed to free himself from a gang of vicious pirates and is hoping to hitchhike a ride to Playmobil Fun Park in Palm Beach, Florida. We’ll place him in a cache and see how it goes.

Our Travel Bug, "Sir Henry," (center) surrounded by pirates.

Our Travel Bug, “Sir Henry,” (center) surrounded by pirates.

After finding the cache, trading treasures, and signing the log book, it is customary to log in online and report your find, as well, and comment on the cache (though I’ll admit that we have often neglected to do this step. We’re trying to improve).

One thing that our family has not yet done is to hide our own cache. Anyone can do it, though there are certain guidelines that must be followed. All hidden items must be family friendly, for example. And you can’t hide dangerous items like weapons or explosives, nor drugs, alcohol, food, etc. It can be helpful to get permission from land owners before placing a cache, though I’m not sure how common this is.

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

Ready to join the great treasure hunt? Just head over to the Geocaching website and create your free account. While you’re there, look us up. Our screen name is Solfire4. And who knows…maybe one day, you will help our family’s travel bug to travel across the country or around the world.

Official geocaching symbol

Remember to follow principles of Leave No Trace while hunting for caches. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave nature better than you found it.