Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trip Story: Denver

If you've never been to Colorado, you may not be aware of the fact that flying into Denver International Airport does not necessarily mean that it makes the most sense to start your trip in Denver. The airport is quite a way out of town and positioned such that it is fairly convenient to several other prominent Colorado cities- when I was working on the itinerary for our trip, it became clear that we could reasonably start or end our trip in Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, or Fort Collins.

I decided to start in Denver, though. I figured we needed a few days to adjust to altitude before attempting anything too strenuous, and Denver offered the perfect spot for a slow introduction to our mile-high (and higher!) vacation.

I have family in Denver, and we spent our first couple of nights with my cousins. This made our gentle introduction to Colorado even more gentle- they made us feel very welcome, and took great care of us. They also gave us some ideas of things to do that were a little bit off the beaten path, and gave us a chance to check out neighborhoods that most tourists probably miss. In short: it was awesome.

One of the things we did with our first day in Denver was go paddleboating at Washington Park. Sadly, Pumpkin wasn't much into this experience, but the rest of us enjoyed it.

Not shown: Pumpkin explaining why this sucked
My cousins had a camping trip planned, so after a couple of nights with them, we said goodbye and moved to a hotel for one night. We spent our final day in Denver doing more usually touristy things. Given Mr. Snarky's obsession with state capitols, it almost goes without saying that we checked out Colorado's capitol building. It was nice, but since I do not share Mr. Snarky's love of capitol buildings, my favorite part was the spot on the outside stairs with a marker noting you are exactly one mile high. We took a family picture there- or tried to. Petunia wasn't interested in joining us, so we have a nice picture of me and Mr. Snarky with Pumpkin.

We strolled around the capitol area a bit, but the heat and humidity was getting to our fragile San Diego climate sensibilities, so we decided we needed to head inside for a short break before walking on to lunch. We ducked into the Denver Public Library, and spent some time in the excellent children's room. 

After a nice lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (Zocalo, if you're curious- I had delicious Mexico City style street tacos), we headed to the History Colorado Center. I'd read that they had an interactive exhibit about homesteading that the kids might enjoy. "Enjoy" would be an understatement, actually. The kids loved it. The grown ups grew a bit tired of the interactive portions after the first 50 or so go-rounds, but found the short movie and exhibit about Kiowa, a now abandoned homesteading town, to be fascinating.

You can hardly blame my city kids for being delighted with the chance to gather "eggs" and "milk" a "cow," though.


There were other exhibits, but we hardly got to see them. Mr. Snarky was very impressed by the "time machine" in the lobby. You move the big machine to one of the special spots on the giant map of Colorado on the floor, press a button, and then get to watch a short movie about a historical event that took place on that spot.


After we left the History Colorado Center, we headed to the Denver Children's Museum, which also delighted our kids.

A firetruck was just the start of the delights
One of our guiding philosophies about traveling with our kids is that we have to plan in activities that they will enjoy, so we didn't mind spending so much time at museums aimed at them. However, we did insist on seeing some sights the adults wanted to see. After some rest time in the hotel, we headed out again again to stroll around Larimer Square and to go see the big blue bear at the convention center:

That is me and Pumpkin at the bear's feet
The kids didn't much see the point of Larimer Square, but they thought bear was pretty cool. Pumpkin was a bit disappointed it didn't have laser red eyes like the big blue horse at the airport, though.

We had a great time in Denver. There were a lot of cool things to see that we didn't get to this trip- I want to go back and see the mint when the kids are old enough to appreciate the tour, for instance. But that's OK, we'd love to go back.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekend Links: The Easing Back In Edition

I worked a full work week this week.... sort of.  And I have some links for you, but no theme or attempt to tie them together. Maybe I'll have my act together next week.

Anyway, to the links.

You may have noticed from my Twitter rants on the topic, that I'm beyond disgusted by the stories that keep turning up about Black single mothers having their children taken away from them because they cannot find child care while they work or apply for jobs. I'm not saying that I think the solutions the mothers found were optimal, but I do think the solutions were probably the best of the bad lot they had to choose from, and if that bothers us as a society the appropriate thing to do would be to make child care affordable, not to throw mothers who fail to perform some sort of magic and create an acceptable solution where non exists into jail.

After the most recent case, a lot of people- myself included- were on Twitter noting we were latchkey kids. Stacia L. Brown wrote a powerful reminder that not all latchkey kids are viewed through the same lens in this country.

And speaking of the same behaviors not being viewed the same in all people... a study found that engaging in diversity promoting behavior is bad for your career if you are female or Black.

I have so far managed to avoid reading that Esquire article about how some women my age are still desirable (or something like that), but I keep coming across good responses. This response from Rebecca Traister is particularly good.

Here is a really good article about Sally Ride.

Janet Stemwedel (a.k.a. @docfreeride) wrote a nice piece about science being for all girls, including the princesses. My annoyance with how even some feminists pigeon-hole girls who like princesses was the inspiration for my most recent kids' book (title: Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess). It was nice to read someone else defending the "pretty pink princesses." They are more than that one aspect. Girls, like boys, can have multiple interests at once.

If you have a kid who likes both Barbies and battle armor, you can now get a suit of armor for Barbie.

And someone has taken on the problem of getting water to boil faster... but only for gas stoves, so it won't help me. I'll stick with my "boil in the electric kettle, transfer to the pan" method, I guess.

This story about how a French supermarket cut down on the waste of fruits and vegetables is fun.

And finally, I give you Story Pirates, a Twitter feed to add smiles to your day.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Muddled Thoughts

On January 31, 2006, Mr. Snarky and I took a bus from Singapore to Melaka, Malaysia. Eighteen days later, we boarded a boat from Pulau Langkawi to Hat Pakmeng in Thailand. We had arrived in Malaysia knowing little about it beyond what our guidebook told us, and left it grateful for the many wonderful experiences we had and welcoming people we met. Our time in Taman Negara may be some of my favorite days from the entire trip, and we still think back wistfully on the wonderful mall food courts of Kuala Lumpur. And visiting the Boh tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands was an incredible experience for a tea lover like me.

I admit that it is this slight personal connection with Malaysia that made me dig for more information when the first reports of an air disaster involving Malaysian Airlines began to appear in my Twitter feed. As I read the details and it became clear that this disaster was likely no accident, a deeper sense of horror set in.

I will not speculate further on who, exactly, is to blame for the disaster, but I do wonder if it will change anything about the wider tragedy unfolding in the eastern Ukraine. Sadly, I suspect not.

I mourn for all those on board the flight. I mourn also for the people caught in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. and more generally for the people of Malaysia and Ukraine, who are already expressing their grief outside the Dutch embassies in their nations.

For some reason, my brain recalled an offhand tweet I saw a few weeks ago about the book "My Struggle," by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. The novel is about Knausgaard's everyday experiences as a father, and the male pundit whose tweet I saw was making joke about how Knausgaard had to resort to writing about something so mundane because Scandinavian countries have removed all of the "usual" sources of plot.

The tweet bothered me at the time, but I didn't really think about why. I just scrolled on. Today, I know why. I was bothered by implication that human life is an interesting subject for a novel only when it is threatened. I do not think Scandinavia has truly eliminated the more usual sources of plot, but if they had, surely that would be something to learn from and perhaps emulate, not something to mock.

Human life is precious, and it is important whether the person living it is starring in a dramatic story or just going about the daily struggle- and yes, it is often a struggle- to live life and perhaps raise children. Maybe if we all got a little bit better at seeing the beauty and meaning in everyday life, we would have fewer people fomenting the conflicts that create news stories with plots that pundit considers acceptable for novels.

This is probably also why I am a bit bothered by the tweets I'm seeing that seem to imply the fact that the plane was carrying many researchers to an AIDS conference increases the tragedy. Yes, it is tragic to lose those researchers. But it is tragic to lose all of the people on board. I do not think we will end up anywhere good if we start considering some lives more valuable than others.

This post has gotten a bit muddled, and I'm not sure it is coming out right. But I needed to write it. I needed to say that life matters, no matter who is living it and no matter how seemingly mundane it is. I want us all to do better, to stop thinking we're more important than that other person over there, whoever that person may be. I want us to stop killing each other, and hurting each other, and screaming at buses full of scared children. I want us to stop throwing mothers in jail because they can't afford child care, and I want us to stop thinking that any trait we can see really tells us much of anything at all about a person's capabilities. I want us to stop letting our fellow humans go hungry, and to stop caring so damn much about who they sleep with or whether their gender matches what is in their pants. I want us to look past all of the things that make us different and see how much we are the same, and feel each other's pain and try to make it better.

I know I won't get most of the things that I want, but perhaps I can at least have a mundane and ordinary life, in which my biggest struggles are around bedtimes and picky eating. If I get that one wish, I will be a very lucky woman. I wish that sort of luck for us all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Colorado Tour: Awards Show Version

As I mentioned in my last post, we've just returned from a two week vacation in Colorado. We flew into Denver, rented a car, and had a driving tour of the state, starting with a few days in Denver followed by a leisurely drive to Glenwood Springs, and then proceeding to Aspen, Alamosa, Colorado Springs, and Rocky Mountain National Park, before ending with one night in Boulder.

I'll come back and link to the full write up each stop as I write them, but first, I want to continue the tradition of writing an awards show version of the vacation. (Here are the awards show versions of  last year's New Zealand trip, our 2012 Texas vacation, and 2011 California road trip.) These posts have become part of our travel routine now- once we get to our gate at the airport, I get out my purse notebook and we write our list while we wait for our flight. It is a great way to distract the kids (and me) from the wait, and to wring a little extra enjoyment from the vacation.

Best hotel: Without a doubt, the grown ups choose Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. It is not that our other hotels were bad- all of our hotels were good, and a couple were great. But the room I booked at the Hotel Colorado was amazing. I like to book a suite whenever I can, so that Mr. Snarky and I can sit up and talk over beers after the kids are asleep. The Hotel Colorado had a two bedroom suite at a price I liked, so I booked it. It turned out to be the "penthouse suite" and had a huge balcony running the length of the three rooms, looking out over the hot springs and the town.

The view from our balcony
Plus, it was a great old historic hotel. We were delighted.

Pumpkin preferred the Misty Mountain Lodge in Estes Park, for its twin beds and play area, and Petunia preferred the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, for its pure fanciness.

Favorite stop: For me, it was Glenwood Springs, for the great hotel, laid back vibe, and the fun we had in the hot springs. Pumpkin agreed with me, mainly due to the hot springs (which were really a giant warm swimming pool). For Mr. Snarky, it was Estes Park, for the beautiful surroundings and the town that reminded him of some New Zealand tourist towns. Petunia picked Boulder, because she really liked the fancy hotel- complete with an elevator operated by an attendant!- and the Dora game on the computer in the library.

Favorite thing: The kids both chose the frog slide in the water park at our hotel in Alamosa (I told you the hotels were good on this trip), although for Pumpkin, getting to visit family in Denver was just as good. I loved visiting my family, too, but I have to pick the tundra hike I did in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had a great day for our visit, and although it was sprinkling lightly when we got to the tundra, there was never any hint of thunderclouds (which would have sent us scurrying back to our car- rightly so, it tragically turns out).  The two deaths in the park occurred below the elevation at which I walked on the tundra, one and two days after we were in the park. We were lucky to visit on a day when no thunderstorms happened, as we would not have gotten out of the car if there were thunderclouds overhead. (This is not to imply that either of the two hikers were to blame for what happened- thunderstorms can form rapidly at that altitude.)

Anyway, the kids didn't want to walk in the sprinkles, so I had a short walk on the tundra path alone, enjoying the amazing sight of fields of sunflowers with snow covered peaks in the background. It was almost magical.

Tundra! Wildflowers! Mountains!
Mr. Snarky's favorite thing was much more down to earth: it was the 4th of July parade we saw in Aspen. He says he feels like he finally saw a proper 4th of July parade. It was also the first 4th of July parade I can remember seeing, for what its worth.

Best playground: The pirate ship playground in Vail. I'd picked Vail as the stopping point for afternoon snack based on reading about this playground, and we weren't disappointed.

Favorite local beer sampled: My favorite was Dale's Pale Ale at Oskar Blues in Lyons, although we also tasted a surprisingly awesome kiwi blonde beer at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company in  Alamosa- it was a part blonde, part pale ale, with kiwifruit added to the brew. The kiwi taste was subtle and such a good addition that Mr. Snarky asked about the recipe. The brewmaster happened to be onsite, so he actually got the recipe, and intends to try to replicate it. The only reason I didn't choose it as my favorite is that I only had a sip and therefore can't say how the taste holds up in drinking an entire pint. I was driving that night, and couldn't have another full pint.

Mr. Snarky's favorite beer was the Great Divide Rumble IPA. We couldn't get visit the brewery (which is in Denver), but he enjoyed this beer on tap and in the bottle on several nights.

Favorite meal: My favorite meal was the beer-cheese soup I had at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub. Mr. Snarky's favorite meal was also in Glenwood Springs, and the truly awesome Pullman restaurant. He raved about his meal for days. In fact, if anyone gives him a reminder, he raves about it now.

When asked, Petunia said her favorite meal was the mac-n-cheese she had just about everywhere, while Pumpkin chose the pretzels she had at several brew pubs.

Best chill out: Dinner and drinks with my cousin and her family, in their backyard.
Best tourist attraction: I picked the Glenwood Springs hot springs, which were well done and a lot of fun for everyone. Mr. Snarky picked the Pikes Peak cog railway. I agree with him that this was a cool ride, and I'm glad we did it- but he was the only one who really enjoyed the time at the summit. I had problems with the altitude, and the kids were too cold.

Best random great thing: Both Mr. Snarky and I chose things from our visit to Alamosa, and perhaps we should just say that Alamosa was the best random great things, because it certainly was a great stop and neither of us really knew what to expect. My specific thing was walking into Calvillo's Mexican Restaurant for dinner to discover that a wonderful duo were performing Mexican folk songs. The man singing lead had an amazingly good voice, and he was expertly accompanied by a woman finger-picking melodies on guitar. Mr. Snarky's specific thing was the light streaming in the windows in the brewpub the next night. The Great Sand Dunes National Park (the reason for our visit) was pretty cool, too.

Biggest bummer: It was cloudy the day we went up Pikes Peak, so while the view was beautiful (it is amazing to be so far above the clouds and not be in an airplane), we missed out on the expansive view for which it is famous. Also, the previously mentioned problem I had with the altitude: I lost my peripheral vision. It was replaced by shimmers. That was very weird.

Best kid moment (both kids): Discovering a love of hiking on the Grottos trail near Aspen, closely followed by discovering a love of climbing on rocks at Garden of the Gods.

They climbed up there. (For the record: the matching dresses thing is THEIR idea.)
Best parenting moment (Daddy): Getting the kids Junior Ranger activity books at the Rocky Mountain National Park- these kept the kids interested in the sights and hikes, and they were both thrilled to get their Junior Ranger badges at the end of the day.

Best parenting moment (Mommy): I can't really come up with one. Maybe it was having a large purse that could carry snacks, wipes, and little notebooks to color in, and being willing to lug it around everywhere we went. Maybe it was creating our trip plan document ahead of time, with ideas for playgrounds, restaurants, and rest stops. Neither of those is really a moment, but it is the best I can do.

As usual, you can expect a bunch of posts with details of the trip. Apologies to those who find them boring, but I love going back to reread them years later. Anyway, you don't have to read them. I've got a bunch of other posts I want to write, too, so the blog won't be mutating into a pure travel blog, even temporarily.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Travel, Books, and Fun Edition

By the time you read this, I'll probably be on my way home from a two week vacation in Colorado. I don't have a bunch of timely links to share, because I prepared this post before I left home. I enjoy blogging, but not as much as I enjoy traveling!

And I do enjoy traveling. I also enjoy daydreaming about traveling to more places. I recently discovered the Atlas Obscura site and holy cow, it is awesome.

I've long been intrigued by the question of why some people (like me) love to travel so much. I still don't know the answer, but I liked travel writer Evan Rail's take on it in the short ebook Why We Fly.

Here's a fun story of virtual travel, in which a writer uses Google streetview to visit her namesake town

I found this great post about being an African-American man working as a nature leader via @DNLee.

While I was writing up our recent trip to Torrance, I came across this fun looking local food blog. The handful of San Diego readers I have (and anyone planning a visit) might want to check it out.

Am I the last person to discover the charming kids' book And Tango Makes Three? We brought it home from the library recently, and Petunia loved it. So did I. It is a great way to introduce the idea that some families have two daddies (or two mommies) to a young kid, if it hasn't already come up in everyday life.

Don't worry, even on a fluffy set of links like this one, I have a YouTube video for you. Mr. Snarky makes sure of that. This week's is here because it is the best use of the bassoon since Peter and the Wolf.

Normal posting will resume soon... once we do the laundry, that is.

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