Aspen views {you’re welcome}

We bribed the girls with pizza at Pieology and then drove up into the mountains to do some aspen viewing.

As we passed some stands of aspen we were asked ‘where are we going?’

Hmmmm….past one tunnel, through Georgetown, nope not there yet.

Past some more towns, just a bit past Frisco to Officer’s Gulch…yep, here we are.

The girls scrambled off to hike around the lake.

We caught up.

Going around the lake.


A cute squirrel we saw.

More aspens and lake views.

We went through the long tunnel on the way back.

We stopped for coffee in Frisco.

It was a good aspen day.

Fun Friday {CU}

After doing some school, we headed to Boulder to do the drop in scientific illustration class.

It was going on in conjunction with the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators exhibit that is being shown right now.

We had paper, pencils, plants and microscopes.

I sat with the girls as we tried to draw some dried plants. The microscope was set up with poppy seeds, they looked so cute.

Grace thought they looked like little whales with no tails.

You can’t really see in this picture, but Bethany’s poppy seed was very intricate.

Hannah went all out with her Prosopis juliflora.

A dried poppy plant.

Playing in the kids area.

A few more.

We looked around some more and then headed to Pearl street to meet James for dinner. On the way to Centro Latin Kitchen we stopped to watch a guy playing glasses full of water. He was really good. As for Centro – good food and cheap (go at happy hour.) We feasted on veggie nachos, devil shrimp, street tacos (pork, chicken, lamb and shrimp), quesadillas, mac and cheese and for dessert – churros, tres leches and coconut fried bananas with pistachio ice cream. I don’t normally like bananas in stuff, but the banana fried with the coconut was good.

We drove home and stopped for a sunset shot, not the best one because I waited too long, but still a nice end to the day.


Today, after doing school, we got the supplies for Bethany’s science lab. I made everyone do it because, well, why not?

Safety first!

The lab is pretty simple, but the reaction of the liver to the hydrogen peroxide was pretty cool.

Also, lighting matches with the oxygen gas being given off was cool too…

which led to lighting matches just for fun.

Which led to Hannah asking why toothpicks don’t light from the match books. I asked her if she thought the toothpick was the same as a match – one is wood and one is paper, but they both burn. She looked at the matches and thought that the stuff on the match must have something to do with why matches light when you rub them on the cover and toothpicks don’t. The chicken liver that we used bubbled up so much that it kept overflowing the test tube.

It was fun to listen to the pop of the toothpick relighting when it got near the bubbles from the liver. Hannah’s piece produced some nice popping sounds.

The same experiment with apple, potato, onion and carrot wasn’t as neat.

The potato and onion foamed up, but didn’t light a glowing match. The apple and carrot did practically nothing. You can find one version of the lab here

Doing laundry and cleaning up liver fluid overflows took up the rest of my day. Next week it’s a photosynthesis lab, that one shouldn’t be as gross.

Park day!

I tell you, nothing beats park day. The kids get to play, the parent get to chat, the shade was nice, the water was cool – it’s nice. We had a huge crowd today, probably close to 40 kids ranging in age from 2 to 15 (with lots of 8 and 12 year olds in there.)

But first, school. Bethany worked on Driver’s ed today (don’t worry it’s just the book work side of it – though I don’t know why you’d be worried, you don’t have to drive with her…), some Government and some Music. Grace worked on a Math test and got a 100, even though she was pleading to not do it. Hannah has started working on cursive and it’s true – when someone wants to do something, they will do it easier than when they don’t want to and you force them to do it. This week she took her training wheels off her bike and is riding without them and now she’s learning cursive. Maybe tomorrow she’ll ask to learn Algebra (I doubt it.)

The park was nice, we found 3 picnic tables in the shade and set up there.

2 boys (twins) had a birthday today and were turning 12, they brought cookies to share. We got to chat about our trip, vent a little about lots of things (not just me venting, other people venting) and play.

There were so many scooters that looked alike it was hard to keep track of which one belonged to which kid.

We stayed until 4:30 and then headed home with an extra kid in tow. Bethany has youth group tonight and we’re taking the girls to the pool until it’s time to pick her up. Tomorrow we’re all doing a science lab (that’s really only Bethany’s), so we’ll see how that turns out.

Dance day

Back to school. Bethany was doing English today, lots of writing. Grace was doing Math and History. Hannah was reading and did some Math. We tried on ballet shoes and found that Hannah needed to wear Grace’s and Grace needs new ones, but for today she was wearing Bethany’s old ones. Our dance times moved, so now we need to be there at 1 and 2 instead of 3 and 4.

I had class first, there were 3 other ladies in it. So, a really small class. I think the date came faster than people were expecting, so maybe we will have a few more people by next week. Grace’s class is huge, 13 kids, I think a few of them might get moved to another class because of their age. Hannah’s class has 11, which is also pretty big. The theme of this session is ‘knowing truth’. We were talking today about two truths of God, that He is infinitely awesome and that He is intimately approachable. We started with Romans 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Our homework is to list who God is and what He has done, so that’s going to be a long list.

(Can’t read her shirt? It says, ‘I am currently unsupervised. I know, it freaks me out too. But the possibilities are endless!’)

Hannah’s homework was to make a poem about who God is, so far she’s been writing down things she knows about God like: He never lies, He is bigger than the mountains, He doesn’t have to stretch or do the splits (I’m guessing she doesn’t like the new stretches and splits she’s doing in class.) I’m thinking the ‘never has to stretch’ isn’t going to make it into the poem…mainly because I’m pretty sure that Jesus stretched when he woke up in the morning.

Grace has to find a verse on who God is, that is a pretty easy task.

Bethany had an ortho appointment and I went by to get the oil changed in the car. They thought I was back too early, but we did just travel about 3,000 miles, so I thought the car might like a new air filter, new wipers and new oil.

It was TNO tonight, so I had dinner at Whole foods while James took the girls to the mall. Some plans for the week: park day, a visit to the botanic gardens, scientific illustrating with professors as guides at CU and for the weekend maybe an Oktoberfest or a sugar beet fest.


Oh the joy of seeing that Colorful Colorado sign. Colorado license plates! Mountains to the west! The Platte river!

We didn’t even stop for lunch, we just grabbed candy at the gas station. We got home and hugged James, scared Zoe and nearly gave Maisy a heart attack (she thought we were gone forever.) We emptied out the car, started laundry and told all of our adventures. It was an awesome trip, but it was also good to be home. The animals were funny, when we were away Zoe became master of the couch and was so comfortable and happy. Maisy, however, was scared and depressed. When we got back Zoe went and sat in her litterbox for the rest of the day while Maisy did a happy dance. We caught up with James and Joel when we got home. It was so nice to sleep in our own beds, we won’t be complaining about that for awhile.


We went to church, then took a picnic lunch to Flyin’ B park. The water was so clear we could see the fish. Most of them were small, but we did see one big fish that was a little wary of the bread we were throwing in. I think that’s because it’s a catch and release pond, so who knows how many times he got caught that day. We went on the other side of the pond to see if there were any bullfrogs, there were and he heard us coming and splashed into the pond. The crabapple trees were so full they were bending over and the bottom limbs were touching the ground. My jelly turned out good, so I don’t need to make any more, but it was tempting. Really though, how much crabapple jelly does one need?

I took a nap in the afternoon, James made tacos for dinner, we watched a Charlie Brown movie and called it a night.

We’re home!

I’ll be filling in the past few days in a bit. I’m also adding in videos, so if you already read a post below, go see if there is a video there now. I have some from the beach, aquarium and …. I think that’s it.

We had fun, it was great to meet Alex and Mrs. Maris in person, to see both aquariums, swim in the ocean, see whales and otters and explore around.

But, as always, we’re glad to be home! We missed the first snow in Denver, but it was light and gone now – so we’re ready for the next one.

Nevada, Utah, Wyoming

It’s funny, you can travel through a whole bunch of states in a few hours, but in Texas a few hours won’t get you very far. Also, on every trip to Texas I have gotten a broken windshield – this trip…nope (and we went through 5 states.)

We slept late at the hotel and then got going about 9 am.

When we hit Utah we noticed that on the salt flats by the road people had spelled out things with the rocks, sometimes just initials, sometimes sentences and sometimes just a symbol. Just like we had to stop to help graffiti the Cadillacs in Texas, we felt compelled to stop and make a heart out of rocks…at least Bethany felt compelled.

We ate lunch near Salt Lake City, then continued on to Wyoming. Our goal was Flaming Gorge. Yes, this could have been the place we camped at on our last night of vacation.

This landscape of red rocks, gleaming water, towering cliffs. It could have been, but it wasn’t.

Why? Because their campsite was closed. Yep. Oh, and there was no sign on the main road, no we had to drive into the park to find this out. We could have dry camped, with no fire, cat holes for bathrooms and no hot dinner – but we didn’t. Instead we asked magical GPS lady where a campground was and she pointed us 45 minutes away, back at the freeway where we had gotten off. We rolled into the KOA at 7:30 pm and instead of a beautiful sunset behind the rocks we got this.

I know, I shouldn’t complain, most people would kill to be at the KOA instead of in the middle of nowhere, but I really liked that middle of nowhere. We set up the tent, cooked stew for dinner and went to bed about 9. It got cold during the night and anything that was touching the tent (blanket, pillow, sleeping bag) had ice on it in the morning. But, it was only one night and the next day we were homeward bound.

9/11 We leave CA

After eating a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and drinking all of Marcel’s milk (thank you!) we headed out of town. I wanted to see something of Sacramento, so on Marcel’s advice we headed to Old town. I tried to find something in town that was honoring 9/11, but I couldn’t find anything in our time frame. So, Old town it was. Old Sacramento started out as Sutter’s Embarcadero, a Fort town near the water that sprang up thanks to being near the waterfront for trade and the gold rush. The town was repeatedly wiped out in the early years by flooding until they decided (like the city of Galveston) to raise the city streets.

The original streets can be seen under the boardwalks and in basements (also like Galveston.) We parked and started wandering in and out of shops: candy shops, costume shops, postcard shops and more.

We found Dr. Who shirts and hats and Grace asked, ‘What does the fox say?’

The cobblestone streets were cool and the flags near the water were lowered to half-mast for the day.

We could have spent more time there, but we had a destination to get to. We did see the Capitol building, but we didn’t have time to go in it (and, no offense, but it didn’t look as nice as our Capitol.)

We entered into Nevada and trucked along to Elko.

On second thought, we should have gone to the next town..we passed by it the next morning and it looked a lot better. Elko is stuck in the 60′s. Our hotel was clean, decorated in western motifs, but still the hotels in the next town looked like a million bucks compared to ours. We swam in the pool, ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and watched TV into the night. It was a long drive today (7.5 hours) and it ended up being even longer the next day.

Wednesday – we take the scenic route to Elk Grove

We packed up our tent early in the morning and mapped out the day. We were headed to Elk Grove to spend the night with friends, Bill and Marcel (Bill was a groomsman at our wedding.) But, we had time to kill, so we started the morning off with a picture with the gray whale sculpture outside the Santa Cruz history museum.

Then we went to Seabright beach to collect seashells.

Bethany found abalone shells, a dead sea urchin and a hollowed out crab shell.

We also found sea glass, Grace found a piece of blue and white porcelain, maybe it came from China! This is the same lighthouse that we saw as the whale watching boat came out of the harbor.

One last otter.

After scouring the beach a bit more, we got back in the car and headed toward Sacramento.

First stop, Niles. I pulled off here because I saw a sign for the Silent film museum.

It was closed, but they did have antique shops and we learned a little history of the town.


In 1912 Niles became the site of the first West coast motion picture studios (Essanay) and Charlie Chaplin filmed some of his most famous silent movies here.


I wish the museum had been open…oh well.

Next stop – Mission San Jose. Since we had been following the El Camino Real we hadn’t seen any of the missions (from afar or up close.) The mission had a newer church side that had a gift shop and followed the mission from the converting of the Ohlone Indians to the current day.

Mission San Jose was founded in 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It is the fourteenth of the 21 Spanish Missions in Alta California. They were founded to secure Spain’s claim to this land and to teach the native people Christianity and the Spanish way of life.

This chapel is reconstructed, the original was destroyed in an earthquake.

This grave was found during excavation of the church and was re-interred when the church was rebuilt.

We passed through Stockton on our way to Sacramento and we didn’t see any of the Barkley’s.


(I know…it’s because they were just on a TV show, but did you know it was based on a real family? That lived in Stockton? That had a ranch and 1 daughter and 3 sons?)

We arrived in Elk Grove and met Marcel at her house. Bill was out of town (which just means that they need to come here to see us!) We chatted and Marcel made us dinner (with Hannah helping.) We had steaks, lemon cream noodles, broccoli and salad. After eating sandwiches and eating out, a home cooked meal was sooo good. (And now Hannah has a new recipe to try out.) Marcel brought out a whole bag full of shoes from her daughter, there were heels, sandals and flip-flops. When she dumped them on the floor my girls went after the shoes like they were pieces of chocolate (I would say like pieces of gold, but we all know they wouldn’t fight over that.) Shoes were snatched up left and right and they all declared that 9/10 was now named ‘Shoe day’. The girls got into the spa for a bit, then we talked some more before heading to bed.

We had a wonderful nights sleep in their house and a nice morning shower. Thanks for the meal and free hotel!


This was our last day in Monterey, what to do, what to do…..we went on a whale watching trip. The boat only had 25 people on it, which was nice. We headed out to the bay and ran along one of the deep sea trenches back south.

The naturalist on board asked if we wanted to know about whales (I snickered)…sure. Okay she said, some whales have baleen and some are toothed. We call the baleen whales ‘Mysticeti’, interrupted Grace. Right, and they have ‘two blow holes, but toothed whales only have one’ Grace interjected…yes, correct. After a few more interruptions the lady realized that she was needed elsewhere.

We looked for blows and packs of sea lions and then….humpbacks. Grace started crying when she saw them.

We must have seen 50 whales over the course of an hour, a pod of 5-7 would come by, feed, leave, then another group would come by.

The sea lions were travleing in front of the whales. We saw lunge feeding like this.

We saw diving with flukes in the air like this.

We saw side diving, fluke flapping and one group was so close (and we were downwind) that we could smell their breath when they went to make a blow. (It smelled fishy.)

The boat moved and we saw more pods of whales.

Finally, we had to leave.

The whales gave us a finale – they got really close to the boat, blew, dove, went under the boat and popped up on the other side and blew some more.

It was amazing.

We took a nap on the way back into the bay and were ready to go to the beach when the boat docked.

Mrs. Maris wanted to see us one last time, so we met her at Natural bridge beach.

The girls swam, we talked and then we went tide pooling.

We found some huge anemones.

While the girls were swimming, an otter swam right by Hannah. She shrieked, then started to follow it, I called out and she turned around. Silly girl, they look cute, but they have teeth! We had a great visit, gave hugs and said bye.

The girls got cleaned up and we went into the little town of Capitola to eat by the water.

We had our last night in the tent by the beach, I wish we had a few more days, the beach was different at each little town and we could have visited a few more. But, at least we got to play in the water on a few of the beaches.

We see the aquarium and ocean creatures in real life!

After a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and juice we drove to the Monterey Bay aquarium.

It was next to Cannery row where there were (back in the day) a whole population of immigrants from China, Japan and Italy that lived in houses like these and worked at the canneries.

The aquarium is located in an old cannery, they left some of the equipment at the front to get an idea of what used to happen there (they used to can sea critters, now you can see sea critters!)

A back side view.

We started the aquarium tour with the sea otter feeding, of course.

We watched the 3 female otters float beforehand and one was even nursing, so cute.

Hannah had a front window seat for the feeding, the otters were climbing into buckets, down slides, playing in ice cubes, standing up and swimming around with their food.

Grace wanted a picture next to every whale: Orca and Gray whale.


Upside down jellies.

Bubble jellies.


They had a whole exhibit about jellies: lion’s mane, moon jellies, bubbles jellies and look at these – light up jellies!

In the open ocean room we watched as they fed the anchovies (which were swirling in a giant anchovy ball) and the other fish, turtles and sharks in the tank. When the school of anchovies came up one broke loose and was being chased by a mahi-mahi, eventually he got caught. The tentacle exhibit was neat, we love octopus, nautilus and cuttlefish. Octopus in a jar?


We could have stayed for hours watching the cuttlefish, they are super cool.

This one is a fancy cuttlefish.

More cuttlefish.

This loggerhead turtle comes from South Carolina.

They ship babies here, they grow bigger, then they ship them back to SC to live out their lives. The view from the building.

We ate lunch at the cafeteria inside, since I was too lazy to go to the car and get the lunch bag. It was a nice break from sandwiches though. A mermaid purse with a cut out window to see the baby skate.

Anemones, beautiful.

If you touch an anemone it will stick to your finger. It’s not really sticking, it’s trying to sting you, but it can’t sting your skin. Sand dollars when they are alive, though we do like to find their shells on the beach.

Penguins and Hannah in an egg.

Another view of the bay.

Kelp forest friends.

This is not a jelly, it’s a snail.

Touch tank time, we touched anemones, chitons, mussels, star fish, sea urchins, abalone and more. That was a neat trip, thank you to Save the Whales for the tickets!

After 5 hours at the aquarium, we headed over to Cannery row.

First stop, the otter shirt store.

When we were toodling through some shops in another building I saw a sign for the John Steinbeck wax museum. I’m pretty sure that I went to this when I was a kid, so in an effort to pass along scary wax museum memories to my kids – I took them. Steinbeck wrote a book about Cannery row called….Cannery row.

The wax museum had the history of Monterey bay from the Ohlone Indians to the Spanish conquests, to Missions, to war with Mexico to Westword Ho! to the gold rush, to immigrant lives in the fishing and canning of the area.

It was a little freaky at points, but what good (or bad) wax museum isn’t freaky at points? We left the cannery shops and went to the beach to tide pool.

Talk about a touch tank – how about real life ocean critters at your fingertips!

We saw sea cucumbers, star fish, anemones, mussels, fish and crabs.

How cool is that?! Some artists made rock cairns on the beach which made for a nice picture.

These pretty beach flowers were growing everywhere.

Since we hadn’t gone swimming yet, we headed back to our camp site and went to the beach. There were perfect sand dollars everywhere. We kept picking them up until I realized that we’d be heading back to Denver with 500 sand dollars, so I just took pictures of them.

Bethany stayed at the tent and read her books, but I couldn’t tear Grace and Hannah away from the beach.

They swam, decorated with boa kelp, swam some more and played with the sea gulls (by which I mean that they hid in a hole in the sand, then ran after the sea gulls until the sky looked like a deleted scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.)

The gulls decided that all 2,000 of them would like to sit on the beach for the rest of the night. Every so often they would take flight at the same time, fly 5 feet and then settle back down. I don’t know which was more fun, swimming in the ocean or chasing the gulls.

Tonight we went into town and ate at Hugo’s pizza. We must have been hungry, we polished off all but one slice of pineapple cheese, all but 2 slices of cheese and I ate all of my chorizo, jalapeno, pepperoni. The moon was just as bright tonight, it was nice not having to take a flashlight to the bathrooms in the middle of the night. Back at camp I turned on the lantern and read some of my book till I fell asleep. In the middle of the night Hannah woke up, sat straight up, then unzipped the tent and looked out. I asked her what she was doing and she said, ‘Unnh’, then she went back to sleep. I think she was sleepwalking (but without the walking.) I asked her about it the next morning and she had no idea what I was talking about.

In case you were wondering, the small tent is 4 feet high, 6 feet long and 9 feet wide. Our other tent is way bigger, but it’s so much trouble to put up (not to mention it takes up more space in the car) that I don’t normally take it on trips unless we are staying in one spot for a long time (as in more than 3 days.) The small tent has enough room for us to lie on our sleeping bags and stuff a few items in the corners.

Tomorrow is our last day in the area before we head to a friend’s house in Sacramento.

Day of the dolphins

The plan for the day was to take a boat ride in the bay. When we woke up there was heavy fog and as we drove north the fog and clouds got heavier. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but we hoped for the best. It took us 3 hours to get from Santa Maria to Monterey Bay and by that time the sun had burned off the fog and the weather was great.

We met Mrs. Maris from STW and some friends of a board member to take a boat ride in the bay. It was very, very nice of Tom and Emma to take us out on their boat. Tom taught us a few things like jib and tack, using the clock to tell others about things spotted and showing us around the bay.

We pulled out past some harbor seals and sea lions.

The sea lions were all over the pier. Apparently after they eat, they come jump up on anything they can and take a nap.

We saw them on buoys, on the pier, on a dock, in a boat, everywhere. We saw a sailing regatta out in the bay, the ships had colorful sails and were racing to a buoy and back.

We got out deeper and the girls were looking hard for any kind of dolphin or whale when Grace spotted some dorsal fins.

They were Risso’s dolphins, a small pod, and they were headed toward the boat.

They passed right under the boat and we saw a baby slapping his fluke on the other side. That pretty much made our day (and it was the only set of dolphins we saw.) Hannah spotted some otters in the kelp and we saw more sea lions on the way back in.

We thanked our guides and talked with Mrs. Maris for a bit.

The girls wanted to go explore Fisherman’s wharf, so we said goodbye and told her we’d meet up again before we left. She gave us the tickets to the aquarium that Grace won, but that would be our next days adventure.

We headed over to the wharf and got to see the antics of an otter and the sea lions up close. Naughty sea lion, I hope the owner knows there was a sea lion in his boat!

The otter was so cute, he kept diving and coming up with a clam and cracking it open, then diving again.

The seagulls were being lazy, trying to get the otter’s food every time he came up. One sea lion had waited too long to jump up on the pier, the tide was lower and he just couldn’t make it.

Even if he had made it, there was an angry sea lion just waiting to push him off.

Otter food.

We hadn’t set up camp yet, so we left the wharf and headed to Sunset state beach. I was worried that we would be on the beach, scenes of sand whipping into the tent whirled in my head, but we were actually on the other side of a big hill.

We got the tent set up and since it was late and everyone was hungry right then, we went into town and ate at Panda Express. Then we found a laundromat and did laundry, yay! It was really late when we got back to the campsite, but the moon was so big and bright that it took us awhile to get to sleep.

Another amazing day.

Hollywood! Drive-on pier and a good drink

I never did get a chance to wash clothes at the hotel, maybe tomorrow….we got in high gear after breakfast and packed the car back up, then headed toward LA.

Our one and only stop was the Hollywood sign as seen from the Griffith observatory.

In real life we could see downtown, but in the picture it looks smoggy (which it was, but we could still see downtown…somehow in the pic you can’t.)

Bunny and Otter came out for a pic with the sign.

It’s not a bad view of it and we had a great parking space (which is hard to do in CA.)

After taking enough pics to get a good shot, we headed down the hill to eat our picnic lunch at a park. The weather has been great, sunny, breezy, very nice. We were so close to where these guys are set, but like Gus and Shawn…they aren’t real (although they are real people and Jim Parsons was actually in my graduating class at Klein Oak.)

big bang

We got back on the road and hugged the coast on Hwy 101, which follows the El Camino Real (the King’s highway which is 600 miles of old road that connected the Spanish missions in the area.) Every so often we would see a bell with a sign for the old highway. I found this map on Wikipedia.


I didn’t get a picture, but the signs looked like this:


As we got closer to Sana Barbara, we cut closer to the beach and drove out onto a pier.

It was freaky because in Galveston you are scared to walk on a pier, much less drive on it (which I would not advise.) The girls were a little freaked out when we started driving on the pier and the boards were squeaking as we went – but we didn’t crash into the sea.

We parked and walked down the pier past the Moby Dick restaurant to the very end.

Grace was not amused by Hannah’s antics.

These two pelicans were chilling, not a care in the world.

We watched the boats go by and then walked to the shops to get candy and ice cream.

I got a licorice pipe and posed.

If we had more time we would have gone looking for these guys (yes, we know they aren’t really Gus and Shawn and they don’t really have an office in Santa Barbara…but that would be cool.)


We got back on the road and drove another hour to our hotel in Santa Maria. The route we took was cutting through a valley with vineyards on both sides, the view back toward the water was very pretty – but there was nowhere to stop to take a pic.

I picked a hotel that was halfway so I wouldn’t have to drive very far the next day (and all the camping spots were booked for Sat., our camping spot starts Sunday.) Our hotel is small, but nice. We went to Cool Hand Luke’s for dinner and had ribs, chicken, shrimp and mac and cheese. I had a very good cinnamon whiskey drink, it was very tasty.

Back at the hotel we called James and caught up with him, then we turned in for the night. I still didn’t do laundry, maybe tomorrow.