Thursday, April 29, 2010

We've Got History

I am not a native Californian.

I was born in New Jersey (Exit 5), moved to Maryland at age six and spent the next ten years singing Maryland My Maryland and strolling the cobbled streets of Annapolis.  We moved to California when I was sixteen. The Spanish names hit me like a knock down ice cold Pacific Ocean wave.  El Camino Real, Paseo unlike the Pine Trails and Holly Lanes of my childhood.  As we passed the enormous statue of Junipero Serra off the 280, pointing at...pointing at...what?

I didn't care.

Nope.  I was not interested.  I was an Anglophile...a J.R.R. Tolkienophile...  I cared nothing for the Spanish Missions or the Mexican rancheros.  I couldn't even work up much enthusiasm for the 49ers.  I liked old English names that felt quaint and cozy.  You can take your Los Gatos, I'll have my Fox Hollow, thanks.

So as my kids grew I began to be sad that they were missing out on American History by growing up here.  I tried to make up for it when I could, like when the Nina docked at Santa Cruz.  But they wouldn't get the fifth grade trip to Williamsburg that I had so enjoyed, nor would they come across old bottles when digging in the woods.  Sniff.  So I decided to do something about it.  They couldn't grow up immersed in colonial history, but Evelyn could have a fifth grade trip and we'd all go along for the ride.  I planned out a Revolutionary Road Trip.  We spent six weeks traveling from St. Augustine, FL to Boston, MA.

It was even better than I imagined.  We got accidentally locked in the Castillo San Marcos after closing, we sifted pipe stems and pot shards out of the dump behind George Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge,

But something both funny and necessary happened at Williamsburg.  I was there loving it, being so happy that my kids could have this essential American experience, when a docent asked where everyone in the group was from.  My kids said, "California!"  And the guide said, "Aw.  I feel so sorry for people from California.  You have no history."  And in that moment I saw myself as if in a mirror, and the spell upon me was broken.  I saw my prejudice against California history for what it was: ridiculous!

At the end of the trip I made this vow:

If anything this trip has given me a profound sense that time is short for the vast wealth of things there are to do and see in this world. I vow that when I am home I will not return to sluggish complacency. When I see them, I am going to turn off and follow where the park signs lead.

And we have.  There was this Point of Historical Interest, for instance.  Sometime during the course of this year I decided that we'd done the fifth grade Colonial American experience for Evelyn, so we'd do the quintessential fourth grade experience for Clementine.  Not that we care about grade levels or anything...I just have this paranoia that my kids will feel that they missed something by not going to if something schools do seems particularly fun I try to make it happen.

So we toured old Monterey and learned about the whaling trade and Spanish and Mexican periods.  We'd been to Empire Mine before, and Marshall Gold Discovery Park.

But I wanted to do the gold rush right and proper, immersion style.  The last month or so while I've been barely present here in the blogosphere I was planning a two day trip to live like miners in canvas cabins at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.  We'd cook over an open fire, dip candles, make lanterns, and visit the diggins.  Well, on Monday and Tuesday we were there.

Check back in a few days to see how it went.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I try to make room in my heart for my kids' dreams.  Sometimes it is a more difficult fit than you'd think.  We have more fish than I would choose.  Bees were not my idea.   I took a deep breath and let Evelyn skin a road kill raccoon even though I am a hydrophobiaphobe (possessed of an unreasonable fear of rabies).  But Clementine's latest dream really put me to the test.

It was a BIG dream.  Imagine a terrarium--a tall one, as tall as a newly 10 year old girl, say--with water at the bottom, home to fire salamanders and fire belly toads, which only make a very cute croaking noise.  There is a waterfall in this dream tank.  It aerates the water and also--now this is clever--creates a spray for the geckos.  Geckos, you say?  Why yes, the house geckos who live and laugh their merry laugh peaceably in the upper portion of the tank with the common anoles and the green snake, creating a harmonious and huge, noisy, impossible to clean and probably stinky biosphere that will take up half the bedroom.

Ok, those were my thoughts intruding upon the dream right there at the end.  But this was a very real and vividly imagined dream. It was a many hours studied dream. A many months planned for dream.  And it was a spectacularly well funded dream.  My mom helped Clem count her money and I nearly collapsed in shock and horror when the tally came to over $500 which put the crazy dream in reach.

In desperation I informed Clem that she had to donate half  her possessions to make room for this thing.  Four days and 6 crates of toys out the door later she looked at me expectantly.  I had promised.

We drove to the East Bay Vivarium, an amazing place which, depending on what kind of person you are, you should either avoid like the plague or make tracks to of a Thursday morning when they are feeding bunnies to the huge pythons and fuzzy chicks to the monitor lizards.  Clem led me to the back of the store and I contemplated the terraria.  The one she wanted was large enough for her to stand in.  I imagined the ladders and even pulleys and harnesses that cleaning this monstrosity would require.

And I began THE SPEECH.

"This is 100% your responsibility.  I am not going to participate in any way in feeding and cleaning and any other caretaking.  You'll have to save money to pay someone to take care of these animals when we go on vacation.  This is 100% your deal."

At this point a man appeared.  I am not sure if I noticed at first his saintly aura.  He said, "Excuse me, I overheard you and I wondered what this `deal' you were talking about was."  He looked as if he might work there or possibly own the place.

I said, "It's a grand plan my daughter has been working on for quite a while.  Clem, tell the man about it."

And she laid out her plan.  And he listened.

When she was done he said.  "Well, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that you could probably have all those pets, except for the green snake.  Green snakes are exceptionally difficult to care for.  It is nearly impossible to keep them happy.  The others, the fire belly toads, fire salamanders, house geckos, anoles, you could have.  But not in the same enclosure.  Look at all the animals here."  He made a grand sweep with his arm which encompassed bearded dragons, garter and corn snakes, several tarantulas and a huge tortoise that was continually ramming its head into the glass walls of its tank.  "Wouldn't it be easier for me if I kept them all in one big cage?  But they all have different needs, so I can't."

Clementine's lower lip was quivering.

"But you don't really need a whole tankful of pets," the wise, wise man said..  "You need one pet that you really love."

Clem bravely fought back tears.  "But the green snake was the one I cared the most about."

"Ok, so you like snakes?"

"Yes."  Sniff.

"You like to hold them?"


"Well, green snakes don't like to be held.  Corn snakes are a good snake.  Do you mind feeding mice to your snake?"

We looked at corn and garter snakes and after a little bit of discussion we ruled out snakes.

We moved on to geckos.  The man took out a leopard gecko.  Clem shook her head.

So he takes down a different box.  "Now this is going to be the next big thing in geckos.  These guys are from New Caledonia.  They were thought to be extinct."  And he lifts the cover on the cutest gecko you ever did see.  A crested gecko.  (Bred right in the store, whew!)

It was love at first sight.

And he tells us this little guy needs a little tank his size.  Clementine opens the wooden chest that contains her life savings.  Bills come flying out. The man hands us over to Sasha, who will, "get us everything we need for the gecko," and, he (half) jokes "take every cent in that little box."

So we took home Dragon.

He was just the right size for Clem's heart and for mine.