Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Don't call it a comeback

I live! Suffice it to say this has been one of the strangest years of my life and I took the time to hunker down. It's been my hunker year. There were sweatpants and cozy blankets and endless movies involved, as should be customary when a marriage breaks up. I'm thinking I should start a separation care package business. Everyone would receive a pair of flannel pajamas, a weighted blanket, a Netflix subscription, a few bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos, an online dating profile, and a hot new pair of shoes. You may be separated but you ain't dead.

Some pretty exciting stuff has happened to me in my sweatpants. First, I hurt my back when I sneezed. Come to me, middle age.

It was the coffee's fault. I had just poured a very full cup of piping hot coffee and was walking through the house when I felt the sneeze coming. I seized up, thinking "oh no, oh no, don't spill the coffee!" so when I sneezed all tensed up, bad things happened. I immediately laid down on the floor moaning. Lucien came downstairs -- "Oh my God, Mom, what happened???" and when I responded "I sneezed, baby" he was just like, "wow...." and stepped over me shaking his head. He's a good boy, though, so went and got me the heating pad.

I also got a new car. I will miss my duct-taped beauty but thankfully it didn't go too far because Alex has it now. I got a shiny new bright blue zippity zoomer. Alex drove me to pick up the car, with plans to go out to dinner afterward to celebrate us finally being a two car family. Alex and I wanted a fancier dinner, like the nearby steakhouse place, but we ended up at IHOP. The kids won that one. We ate celebratory pancakes.

I took the kids on another road trip over the summer. No one is surprised. Strap in for a bunch of photos again.

Coco on the road between here and there 

This trip will be known as "the one with the masks" because Lucien and Coco wore sloth and pigeon masks at every stop.

Arches National Park, an old favorite

Coco wanted to do an escape room while staying in Moab outside Arches. She remembers fondly our escape room experience in Whistler, BC where Alex and I very nearly pried boards off the walls thinking we were on the right track. But we were not.

The kids and I escaped the escape room but only because the staff took pity on us. They liked us when we named our team "We Are Definitely Not Going to Escape Ha Ha." I think they wanted to give the kids a sense of accomplishment so let us ask way more questions than allowed over the walkie talkie -- and at the very end a staff member just walked into the room laughing and said "do this, do this, do this" so BAM! We escaped. Kind of.

We also visited the Grand Canyon. Coco wanted a Junior Ranger badge from the Grand Canyon so we stopped in the visitor center for her Junior Ranger booklet. Our troubled relationship with a park ranger began when we dropped the completed booklet off for her to receive her badge. As she raised her hand to recite the Junior Ranger oath, Lucien pointed at the badge on the ranger's chest and said, "Oh, you're a Junior Ranger, too, good for you!"

(Lucien was mortified after. He truly thought the guy was sporting a Junior Ranger badge to support all the park's Junior Rangers and he was making a funny joke. Oops.)

I wish the ranger had a better sense of humor but he seemed quite miffed and said, "I'm a real ranger and this is a real badge" and launched into his lengthy education in the forestry sciences that had gotten him to where he was sitting. It didn't help when Coco didn't quite keep up with the conversation and said, "But you're old, did you have to fill out all twelve pages of the Junior Ranger book instead of just five like me?"I fear he was offended both on account of her calling him "old" and the lack of respect for his forestry science smarts.

To change the subject, I quickly asked him about the evening ranger program. He said he was leading a program that evening called "Mistakes and Missteps and Mishaps in Grand Canyon" and I said, "You mean like literal missteps? Like people backing up and falling into the canyon?" And he said " No death stories" to which Coco immediately said, "Well where's the fun in that?"

There were a few beats of silence then as he likely considered ripping Coco's Junior Ranger badge off her t-shirt so I ushered the kids out of the visitor center quickly. Lots for that ranger to unpack in those few minutes of interaction so I'll leave him to it.

Love you anyway, you offensive sloth

Our cabin was close to the visitors center so we had to pass it several times a day. We were embarrassed by some of the things that had come out of our mouths to that ranger so wished to avoid him for the rest of our stay. We would approach the entrance slowly and peer in to see if he was there. If he was sitting at the desk, we would run quickly past the front door. He saw us a couple times.

Whatever, so one ranger in the world thinks we're a terribly odd little family. I'm frankly surprised it's only one.

We relaxed for a few days at Glenwood Hot Springs in Colorado. It's giant and wonderful. We became unrecognizable little shriveled prunes floating around in that thing all day and all night.

Then during our stay with Grandma and Grandpa, we visited a lovely art installation made of sticks and Grandma tried to teach a sloth how to play hammered dulcimer --

Then Mesa Verde National Park. I made new friends at this park when people wanted to airdrop me videos they'd taken of the kids with funny commentary like, "And in the distance, we see the elusive sloth and pigeon of Mesa Verde" as we hiked up a path towards them. The kids couldn't see very well in those masks so I had to hold onto their arms often to avoid them plunging off the side of a trail.

Last, our favorite park of all time -- back to Capitol Reef and back to staying in a covered wagon. This park is worth it every time. We had to branch out to see new stuff since we've been there so many times. The best way to do that was a Jeep tour of the back country. Our guide was delightful, even gave Lucien his own flip-flop when Lucien's broke in the middle of nowhere.

Then our guide just went nuts and started driving down the river

In non-road trip related matters, Coco was a crying baby for Halloween. Terrifying stuff --

Look how concerned Natani was

I hosted a big crew on Thanksgiving, including my parents and brother visiting from Colorado --

Christmas was bittersweet. Alex was with us for dinner at Seattle Mom's on Christmas Eve and came over Christmas Day for presents. It felt pretty normal, which for some reason makes the whole thing even more sad. I'm glad we get along, though. This would have been a much harder year for all of us if we didn't.

I had a dream recently. The four of us were at the elementary school where Lucien once attended and Coco still does. Coco went up to her classroom as Alex and I sat there with Lucien having a chat. I looked out the window and saw a tidal wave, three times the size of the school, coming towards us rapidly. Alex and I grabbed Lucien's hands and ran as everyone yelled, "get to the back of the school." We ran and ran and then the wave hit and rocked the school. The floors flooded heavily but we were still there, holding onto each other.

I told Alex to stay with Lucien, that I had to find Coco, and waded through waist-deep water. As I made my way up the stairs, other parents told me that the teachers were gone, had been called to a school that had been hit even harder, and that the kids were alone upstairs.

I found her classroom, found Coco sopping wet and huddled in a corner crying, and grabbed her up. I looked out the window and another tidal wave was coming, much bigger than the first. I sat on the floor with her in my arms, telling her everything was going to be OK and praying Lucien was safe with Alex downstairs, as it hit. And then I woke up drenched in sweat and crying. I didn't go back to sleep that night.

If there's anything to represent my heartache and anxiety and fear of divorce, that dream is it. It was a real asshole dream and maybe, if I can make a critique, dream, a bit too on the nose.

But we're all here. And we're all OK. Life goes on.
Don't call this a comeback.
But I'll be around when my hunkering schedule allows,

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The orange kids

School's out for summer, finally. By the end of the school year, I cannot wait for summer break. And by the end of summer break, I will be staring at the calendar all day every day desperately counting seconds until school starts again, which it will do just in the nick of time. These things are perfectly timed for my mental and emotional limits on either end.

Lucien has completed 7th Grade. It wasn't his easiest year but I don't think 7th Grade is ever the easiest year. It actually may be the year that sucks the most so taking that into consideration, he rocked it.

The Loosh was enrolled in a phys ed class this year called "Urban Hiking" led by an intense teacher who is big, intimidating and, as Lucien said, "somehow has a nose in the shape of an 's.'" The teacher declared they were going to try a heart rate experiment and gave the kids heart rate monitors and iPads for their urban hike that day. Everyone's heart rates were there on the iPads in a list for everyone else to see. A box next to their names turned green, orange, or red depending on how hard their heart was working. The kids were instructed to keep their heart rates in the green range, the acceptable range for the activity at hand, at all times.

It was a pressured situation. And Lucien is not the most physically active person in the world, ahem. His primary passions are video games and ants, both of which involve focus and intense staring, occasionally with a magnifying glass, but neither involves much movement.

He caught this queen ant during her nuptial flight last month.
It's a long story.
He is now growing his second colony.
He is so happy with the ant situation.

So... nearly immediately upon beginning the urban hike, Lucien's heart rate spiked into the orange range and his classmates yelled, "Oh no, Lucien's dying already!" (He told me later, "Mom, I swear, it only took like five steps for my heart to be like 'nope.'") By the time they got up to the park, Lucien and a handful of other kids were in the high orange range and their teacher was hopping around in front of them demanding they get back into the green, which only pushed their heart rates closer to the red. It is apparently difficult to lower your heart rate when someone is in your face insisting you do so immediately.

The teacher told the red-orange kids to stop walking and get on the ground but to keep moving in some way until their heart rates were green. The orange kids dropped into the grass and began squirming on their bellies like army cadets at basic training. This did nothing to lower their heart rates, in fact increased them by quite a bit because now passersby were staring. The orange kids then laid in the grass and attempted movement with even less movement. Lucien said he laid on his stomach, reached his arms out to the sides and wiggled his fingers. One boy gave up and laid in the grass whistling and staring at clouds with his legs crossed. One girl log rolled side to side halfheartedly.

As their classmates walked green-zoned circles around them, the orange kids bonded in the grass over their mutual agreement that 7th Grade is pretty much the worst.

(My takeway: Lucien needs to jog around the block more often.)

I have two new foster dogs. Rasta is an 8-year-old poodle mix rescued from the streets of Mexico and Ralf is a 6-month-old Formosan rescued from a mountain in Taiwan where he'd been abandoned with his littermates.

Rasta the mini poodle is a small feisty dog who thinks he's a big scary dog. He regularly attempts to attack Natani even though we tell him it's a bad decision every time. She could kill him, of course, but thankfully Natani doesn't have murder in her heart. She just kinda looks down at the little growling thing hopping around spoiling for a fight then looks back up at me with question marks in her eyes.

Can I kill the big doggie, foster mom?

Most of my day is about trying to keep Rasta quiet. He is a vocal one. My neighbor walked past the house the other day while I was out in the yard and asked how my foster dog, Bob, was doing. I responded a bit confused, "Huh? Bob?" and the neighbor laughed and said, "Yeah, we call him Bob Barker." Yikes. (My takeaway: I should send all my neighbors fruit baskets.)

Exhibit A

Alex usually comes for dinner once a week. The day he was scheduled to come here was also the evening Ralf the Formosan puppy was due to arrive at the airport from Taiwan. We decided to go to the airport for dinner and pick up Ralf together as a fun family activity.


Ralf and his littermates were wheeled out from the oversized baggage area in big crates on carts. There were six of them in total, all of them shaking, exhausted, confused from their long journey. The director of the dog rescue organization warned they would be distressed when we wheeled them away in opposite directions since it would be the first time they'd ever been separated. And sure enough, as soon as the first dog began rolling, the high pitched, frantic dog shriek screaming began. It was ear splitting, heartbreaking, and awful.

We fosters just looked stunned at each other and said, "Uh-oh, this is gonna be ugly. Like a band-aid, people, GO GO GO." and took off jogging with our dog carts. The noise got louder then, so shrill and frantic as we all bounded away trying to get them into cars as soon as possible. People waiting for their luggage at the carousels stared incredulously as the gang of us sprinted past. Many plugged their ears.

I wonder what those people saw, what it looked like from their perspective. I imagine it looked something like a little dog crate race, with all of us pushing our carts and taking corners too hard at high speed as we slid sideways.

We dove into an open elevator only to realize there was already another shrieking Formosan inside of it. The dogs, sensing proximity to a sibling, went absolutely insane. It was a sound I'm not sure I can accurately describe but I will try -- "hellish cacophony exploding shriekbomb." I exchanged desperate looks with the other foster mom, whose bangs had fallen into her eyes from her dog running efforts so she was trying to blow them out of her face, and immediately yelled at my family to "reverse! reverse! reverse!" I'm fairly certain we all would have suffered permanent hearing loss on that elevator ride.

Ralf gave up after that but the other dogs shrieked all the way to cars. We could hear them from different corners of the parking lot. By the time we got to the car, we were sweaty and tired and pretty damn stressed out. Alex said, as we climbed into the car, "This was fun, Min, I'm so glad you're fostering dogs now." I sense he was being sarcastic but let's believe he was serious for a minute and truly appreciates my dog-saving efforts.

Happy news, Ralf was reunited with his siblings at an adoption event a week later and they all piled together in a sweet little Formosan heap.

Beautiful brothers staring at a bag of treats
and wanting the treats very much.

Ralf goes on trial adoption later this week. I'll miss the shy guy. Rasta may never go on trial adoption because he is a very loud little dog.  Rasta is also a passive aggressive poodle. He does not like sharing my attention with Ralf, and lets his displeasure be known by peeing on Ralf whenever Ralf is sleeping.

I require assistance from the kids when walking three dogs.
Especially these three.

Here's to the orange kids and foster dogs.
Struggle brings strength, y'all,

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Devil's Fortune Cookies

My latest foster dog, a six-year-old German Shepherd mix, was adopted last weekend by the sweetest couple. It was sad because I loved him with the strength of many suns but even worse, within two hours of being with his new family, he bolted and was hit by a car. He's injured but will be OK. The poor boy must be so confused and scared, surrounded by people he doesn't know in a place he doesn't know.

I wish he could recover here with me and the kids instead.... sooo hey, does anybody have any surefire dognapping tips? Asking for a friend. We did not have this conversation.

I miss you, good boy. 
Get better soon.

I'm getting back to the California road trip now to get my mind off poor Rocky and his collapsed lung.

Last time I checked in, which admittedly was a long time ago once again, the kids and I were headed to Big Sur on Highway 1 in beautiful California. It was a fast swervy ride, as it should be. The kids had vomit bags at the ready but more importantly they had Dramamine, which made them so drowsy they were kinda like "whooooo" all quiet-like with eyes half closed. The vomit bags thankfully went unused and quickly returned to their previous status as garbage bags.

Lucien has an interest in photography. Here he is trying to get a picture of a possible sea lion in the water but Coco and I kept bugging him. Hang in there, Lulu, we are indeed annoying --

Hearst Castle in San Simeon sits just off Highway 1. The Hearst Castle tour is boring compared to the Winchester House Tour because there are no ghosts. Hearst built a big impressive house, sure, but you barely see any of it because you spend too much time in each of the rooms. We could have seen many more rooms if we didn't have to stand around hearing for the 100th time that Charlie Chaplin played poker with Walt Disney in that very room or whatever. Stop with the name dropping and show me more house.

I am totally pretending I live here. I've just joined this tour to mingle with the commoners
 and keep myself down to earth.

We stayed that evening in the infamously quirky Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. I can't recommend it enough, especially if you are a fan of sensory overload --

This is just the dining room

The rooms at the Madonna Inn are themed. Our room had an "1850s San Francisco" theme which, from what I could tell, pretty much meant "brothel." Think black lampshades, gold mirrors, red shaggy carpet and red walls with a gold lace overlay. I was pretty jealous of the pioneer themed room next door because it had half of a real covered wagon in there. The wagon added something special, added authenticity to the theme. I am very relieved we did not have half a prostitute to add authenticity to ours.

The Madonna Inn is the place local couples come to dance like nobody's watching, often in matching outfits, to live bands. I took Coco for a few twirls on the dance floor after dinner but Lucien chose to stay at the table and cover his face with a napkin in horrified embarrassment.

That boy has become less fun since turning 13. I went to pick him up early from school last week in one of my favorite outfits -- a pair of super high-waisted wide-legged jeans and a cropped top with a wide belt. My style game was on point and I was feeling sooo fine but when Lucien saw me in the office, he was mortified. He actually pulled on my arm to get me out of the school as quickly as possible. I was like, "Dude, what is your issue? I'm amazing!" and he said "God, Mom, you look like one of those hippies from the 80s." He then informed me that bell bottoms are hopelessly out of style (false) but I didn't really hear that because I was stuck on the horrifying "hippies from the 80s" part.

(... Lucien thinks the hippies were in the 80s... I guess because the 80s seem so impossibly long ago to him... so now I have a choice to make. Either I wear the exact same hippie outfit to school every time I pick him up OR I can pull out the true 80s gear -- maybe a Wham t-shirt worn off one shoulder, pegged jeans, jelly shoes -- and jazzercise into the building.)

Our brothel themed room at The Madonna Inn neighbored a group of people from L.A. celebrating their friend's 30th birthday. I know all this because we could easily hear them next door through the thin wall, calling each other by their insufferable names like Magnolia and Blaine and Thaddeus -- and forgive me but sweet baby Jesus, I hated them.

One male (I think it was Rolston but my voice identification is not 100%) said at one point, "My actor's diction coach got injured pretty badly at the tennis club but he wanted to take his SUV to the emergency room instead of my convertible because he doesn't like what my convertible does to his hair" and I sat straight up in my bed and said aloud, "I HATE YOU PEOPLE" and then immediately heard Lucien laugh from over in his bed. I did not model mature parental behavior there but at least The Loosh concurred.

We didn't sleep well that night because as cool as The Madonna Inn is, its walls are apparently made of paper. I hated our room's walls more than I hated Rolston and that's saying a lot.

The next morning, bleary-eyed, I bought a cup of coffee at the bar and the woman working there said, "the condiments are over there" and pointed at a table across the room. I immediately blurted out, "Oh! Do you have mustard?"

My mind had jumped to a thought I'd had from the previous day, you see, when the kids and I were eating lunch at a rest area. I was eating cheese and salami on crackers and thought, "It's a little dry. Mustard would be great with this. I need to find little packets of mustard for next time."

Upon hearing the word "condiment" my mind had not gone towards cream and sugar. It had gone straight back to mustard. Maybe it wasn't a totally unreasonable connection for me but I think it struck the woman behind the bar as completely baffling. She stared at me slightly wide-eyed, slightly open-mouthed, until I mumbled "never mind" and shuffled off. I'm sure she watched me go and said aloud to no one in particular, "My god, that woman puts mustard in her coffee."

Our next stop on the itinerary was the reason for the whole road trip, the ultimate goal -- Death Valley National Park in the Mohave Desert. I'd never been to Death Valley before but knew enough to avoid it during the summer because we would probably DIE.

Even in Spring, it's toasty in Death Valley with temps in the mid-90s. It is also a humongous park. I asked a ranger about one hike in particular and was told it was a four-and-a-half hour drive to the trailhead, which unfortunately meant a four-and-a-half hour drive back, too. I laughed out loud -- what a silly ranger telling me jokes! -- but she was serious. We skipped that hike.

My two dot kids

Death Valley immediately became not just one of our favorite national parks, but one of our favorite places ever. You have to marvel at the remoteness and the wildness of it all, the extremes it embraces with snow capped peaks above and one of the hottest places in the world below in the salt flats, 282 feet below sea level.

The kids shopped for my birthday gifts in San Luis Obispo.
I became the proud owner of a shark hand puppet,
and a lucky road trip car charm,
and a bunch of fake mustaches at the the age of 44.
It's gonna be a good year.

Coco two miles out into the salt flats,
wishing the car was parked closer.

I almost lost the kids to an overheated crabby revolt in the sand dunes.  The handheld misting fans got us through --

For the Star Wars fans, Death Valley was Tatooine
and these sand dunes are where C3PO and R2D2 got lost.
The kids got sick of me scouting all filming locations
and tried to leave me
as I ran after them yelling, "You guys! It's a classic!"

Death Valley is full of natural features with ominous names like "Dante's View" and "Devil's Golf Course" and "Devil's Haystack." Lucien said at one point, while reading from a book we had purchased at the gift shop, that there was a super cool feature we had to see called "Devil's Fortune Cookies." I scoured my park map but couldn't find anything labeled Devil's Fortune Cookies so walked into the visitor center to ask a ranger their whereabouts. The ranger laughed out loud, said there was no such thing in Death Valley, and that someone must be mistaken or was playing a joke on me.

I turned to see Lucien doubled over with laughter. He could barely choke out the words, "I can't believe you believed me and I can't believe you asked!" as I marched him back to the car. He was so very pleased with himself.

Devil's Golf Course.
A real place.

I get frustrated sometimes on these road trips because even if I'm pointing out something amazing outside the car, the kids rarely look out the window. I pulled over in the middle of a gigantic wind farm (amazing!) to give them a talkin' to. I said they were missing some of the best parts, the journey parts, and that I wanted them to notice when I pointed out something interesting along the road. If they didn't get it together and enjoy absolutely everything I told them to enjoy at all times, I was going to take away their screens.

We soon happened upon a gorgeous old bridge above a deep valley. I said, "You guys better look out the window and appreciate this old bridge." and Lucien yelled from the backseat, "OH WOW, thanks for pointing that out, Mom, this bridge really butters my biscuit!"


We're not done with this trip yet, sorry. I pointed the car north and aimed for a different type of valley, Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is classic beauty in your face, some of nature's finest offerings.

I splurged on the accommodations in Yosemite. We stayed at the fancy pants Majestic Yosemite Lodge. It wasn't cheap but it was worth it because it reminded Lucien of The Shining and I really love creeping out the kids.

waiting for blood to pour out of this elevator...

I'm not sure if we enjoyed driving around the park more or sitting in the lodge's sun room more. The Majestic Yosemite has board games to lend its guests and we borrowed them ALL. It's good to have the quality downtime in between insisting the kids enjoy things they very much do not enjoy.

I've got to wind this road trip down but there's still one more stop! Plus... a special guest!

The last stop was San Francisco and the special guest was Alex, who flew in just for the weekend to join us in one of our favorite cities. Alex and I are no longer together as a couple but we still like each other as people and are doing well keeping our separation friendly and peaceful. High five, Al, we make breaking up after 20 years look like easy fun. (It's not)

The kids said it was "kind of weird" we were all together again on a trip but also "kind of nice." I think that sums up how we all felt about it.

Coco being sent to solitary confinement on Alcatraz

This is where the real hippies were from, 
not those 80s ones.

Coco got very tired after about 500 blocks of uphill San Francisco walking
so she said "eff it" and started crawling.

Same sculpture eleven years later. 
The kid looks different, though.

I'm plotting my next road trip already. So I guess that means I'm plotting two things now -- another road trip and (allegedly) stealing my foster dog back from his new family. I could incorporate the two, maybe, because once I've stolen the dog I should probably skip town for a little bit.

I'm  going to do these trips with them until they are 100 years old.

In the meantime, back in Seattle,

She's a sloth now.

Life goes on. And everyone is OK.

Those Devil's Fortune Cookies really butter my biscuit,

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Feels like Day 39

I turned older recently. It tends to happen once a year. This year I celebrated in one of my happiest of places because I was on the ROAD.

You know it's been a tough year for all of us, posse, so you know how badly I needed to be out there with my kids again, driving through a whole lot of wide open expanses with a whole lot of nothing stretched before me on long, long roads.

I rented a car for this trip. Alex helped since he has a membership for rental cars given all his travels. We picked the car up together and as soon as we hopped in, we were like, "Is this what cars are like now?" and then proceeded to push every button like kids with a new toy. I'm surprised we didn't break anything.

It's been a long time since I've had a new car. My 2006 model is still kicking it but has most definitely seen better days. I love my car and don't want to part with it yet but I'll admit -- pretty thrilling to have an affair with a hotter younger model for a couple weeks.

My road trips are ambitious. It's the norm for us to pull 14-hour days in the car as we get to where we're going. The kids and I have a system that has been refined over many years of doing these trips -- an intricate schedule of bathroom breaks and snack bags and surprise bags and road trip games and countdowns and music playlists to fit each landscape. We know what to expect in a car and it doesn't take long to get back into the road trip frame of mind.

Climbing into a car together at dawn to begin another adventure is like climbing into an old friend. That sounded creepy but I meant it to feel cozy.

There was one feature I found jarring on my hot young rental car as I cruised along. Every few hours or so, the dashboard would light up and a message would flash in an annoying way: "Would you like to take a break?" And I would get kind of offended and say aloud, "Take a break? Take a break? Have you ever met me, car? God you don't know me at all."

My old car would never ask me such a stupid question. She knows breaks are for wimps and road trips are for driving.

This trip was all about California. Our first day ended in Eureka. I love Northern California and all the many, many quirky roadside attractions you can search out until your kids start getting crabby and telling you they're sick of them and wish we could just go to the hotel. Lame!

Giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Babe was anatomically correct.
Lucien jumped out of the car and yelled, "Mom, look at the balls on that bull!"

For the tour-thru tree, my rental car's dashboard
flashed the message,
"Get me out of here I am claustrophobic"
We're really getting to know each other now.

A house carved out of a giant Redwood tree

The Gravity House at Confusion Hill

The Grandfather Tree

We ate dinner our second night at a Cheesecake Factory in San Jose. It is not an experience I would recommend. My first question, which has been on my mind for a long time: why is The Cheesecake Factory decorated in a faux Egyptian theme? Shouldn't it be more of an industrial factory-type thing? What is it about the words "cheesecake" and/or "factory" that made someone snap their fingers and say "Cleopatra!" This is just one of many things that bother me about that restaurant.

Our table was wedged between two tables of men at The Cheesecake Factory.  The men on my left were complaining about the women in Silicon Valley. One said, "If you're not payin' 'em, ignore 'em, because at least the ones you're paying will do what you say." I had to resist throwing my bowl of overpriced pasta primavera at his head because it is my firm belief it is better for a misogynist to wear a bowl of pasta than not wear a bowl of pasta.

I was hoping the kids had not overheard but Lucien looked up from his book and said, "Mom, I think that guy's single for a reason."

The conversation of the men to my right was slightly less offensive. They were discussing how one of them had drunkenly killed a chipmunk one time. I don't think I want to be friends with either table but at least those to my right seemed sad about what they were saying.

The kids and I were in San Jose to visit the Winchester Mystery House. It's been said the Winchester Mystery House is the most haunted house in the country, inhabited by the vengeful spirits of those killed by the Winchester Rifle.

Sarah Winchester, an eccentric lady, understatement, was told by her medium the only way to keep the ghosts at bay was to build on the house continually, 24-hrs a day, which she did for over 30 years. There were no blueprints, no plans, she would just tell the workers to tack on this room or that room as it went along. It is an immense labyrinth of 170 rooms with no rhyme nor reason as to its layout. We were warned by our guide not to leave the group, that if we wandered off it would be very difficult for us to find our way out. I bet half the ghosts in that house are just former tour participants trying to find the bathroom.

The Winchester House was as beautiful and creepy as I'd hoped.

staircases leading straight up into the ceiling

The door in Sarah's seance room.
It opens onto nothing
but is a handy shortcut
if you'd suddenly like to be down in the servants' kitchen sink.

Another "door to nowhere" up on the second floor.
If you open that one and aren't paying attention,
you're face first in the garden now.

I must add the tour doesn't begin in the best way. The guide says "We're about to climb a staircase with seven switchbacks and a hundred low-rise stairs, all just to take us nine feet above to the second floor." So you're crisscrossing back and forth across the narrow low-rise stair switchbacks, giggling with your fellow tourmates like, "Oh gosh, Sarah, you were so weird!"

But then you get to the top of the stairs and the guide says, "Those are not the original stairs. Sarah had the normal stairs ripped out and those low-rise stairs installed towards the end of her life because she could barely move due to her arthritis."

And then you feel terribly guilty, like a total jerk, for giggling and calling an old lady weird who sufferred crippling arthritis and was just trying to get into her big dang weird house. Hang your head in shame, tour participant, in shame.

After San Jose we headed over to Highway 1 to experience the winding and wild beauty of Big Sur.  This is the morning I jumped on the kids to wake them up and said, "Guys, time for Day Three!" and Lucien groaned and said, "Jesus, Mom, it feels like Day 39." Maybe that's how it feels to read about it, too.