Friday, July 22, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 15-16: San Francisco and Kirby Cove

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 15: We left our friends and drove to San Francisco, arriving around noon. It was too early to go to our campsite, so we had a picnic lunch on Rodeo Beach in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Finally, the children saw the Pacific Ocean. And promptly fell in love, despite the gray skies and cold water.

It's amazing they ate anything at all, given their fascination with standing as close to the waves as they could without getting wet. (They got wet, of course.)

We stopped by our campsite at Kirby Cove campground before driving out to a suburb to have dinner with Kansas Dad's aunt and uncle. This campground has access to a beach nearly under the Golden Gate Bridge with amazing views of San Francisco (if it's not too foggy) and ships going in and out of the harbor (even if it is).

This was one of my favorite campgrounds of the whole trip. Who would have guessed you can camp so near to San Francisco? There are disadvantages, of course. You have to trundle your gear down a hill (wheelbarrows provided) and there's no running water. Totally worth it!

We found plenty of wildlife, birds and a sea lion or seal unconcerned by our presence.

We had a lovely dinner with Kansas Dad's family and his aunt even graciously provided two bags full of cookies to sustain us over the next few days. We had been worried about the sound of the foghorn or the boats so nearby, but we mainly heard the waves crashing on the shore.

Total driving for day 15 - 155 miles.

Day 16: The following morning, the kids and I spent as long as we could on the beach while Kansas Dad packed the van.

The children amassed quite the nature collection by the time we needed to leave. We left everything there for future visitors, taking only pictures with us. Well, and a lot of sand and wet shoes. (The shoes were famously soggy and damp for the next week as we were never anywhere dry enough long enough. They should have worn their sandals!)

Being so close to the bridge, we stopped on our way out and walked out a bit on it. The noise from the vehicles is quite overwhelming, but it was fun to watch boats in the harbor.

Then we spent the entire day driving, arriving at one of the Redwoods campgrounds, Elk Prairie, in time to set up camp and make dinner. It lived up to its name as these Roosevelt Elk were nonchalantely relaxing across from the registration wall.

Total driving for day 16 - 319 miles.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Back in Print and Wonderful: Black Fox of Lorne

by Marguerite de Angeli

I had the opportunity to proofread this book for Hillside Education in June. I waited to post about it until the final touches were complete and it was officially back in print. Hillside is doing good work, people!

Marguerite de Angeli, who wrote the familiar and wonderful The Door in the Wall, also wrote this book about twin thirteen-year-old boys of Norway who find themselves stranded alone by storm and sword in Scotland at the time of Malcolm II. Only one brother is captured; the other remains free which allows them to take turns as the captive and simultaneously discover the cruel plots by their captor. The boys remember and follow the teaching and advice of their father and their lessons in Norway: mastering their anger, keeping silent in company, training their bodies to endure hardships, mastering skills despite lack of interest.

Along the way, they encounter Christians who teach the boys about Jesus, in words and actions.
Memory of St. Andrew’s martyrdom strengthens our faith and makes us able to endure hardship and grief, and to know joy that Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life for every man.
The example of Christians who wait on the Lord gives the boys strength to endure their mistreatment and the patience to wait for the right time to exact revenge on their father's murderer. (In the end, as the Christian suggests may happen, the villain meets his fate at the hates of the king.)
In His good time, He will help us,” said Murdoch. “Perhaps He is helping us now, though we see it not. God’s ways are not our ways. We must have faith, for even when all seems against us, all seems lost, we later find that all was for the best. Sometimes one must lose that many others may gain, even as Christ gave His life for us all. We must have faith."
The boys naturally raise questions about the faith, many of which are interesting ones.
“Why does this Gavin make the sign then, when he is cruel as I know he is? He seems to like being thought cruel. Why makes he the sign?" asked Ian again.
When they hear the story of Jesus calming the storm, the boys ask why the storm that destroyed their ship was not stilled.
“Who shall say that ye were not sent here for a purpose?” asked Gregory. “I be but a shepherd, and know these things only by hearing the holy pilgrims tell of them, but I know them to be true, though I know not the reason for the way things happen. We can only hope and believe, for often good cometh of seeming evil, as the lily grows from the slime and dung which feeds it.”
More than once, Brus and Ian do not strike their enemy when he is in a position of weakness.
Brus wondered why he had troubled to save him. Yet, save him he had, surely. Then, he seemed to hear his father’s voice, as clearly as if he had really spoken, saying, “—and be just to all men.”
But was it “just” to save the life of an enemy? “Yes,” Murdoch Gow said. “Love thine enemy, hate him not, but hate the thing he does.”
This is a story of courage and virtue, full of wisdom passed from father to son, and boys who eventually choose their own paths. The end is wonderfully exciting.

There are a few deaths, though not presented in a gruesome way. This book would be appropriate to read aloud to a wide range of ages, but I will probably have my children read it independently in late elementary or middle school. It would be particularly appropriate if studying the history of England and Scotland around the year 1000, but worthwhile anytime.

Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 13-14: Yosemite National Park and Friends

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 13: We rushed out of our hotel room as early as possible (that would be about 9:30 am, as always) to visit Yosemite. We planned to leave after lunch, so we wanted as much time as possible.

I cannot express how awe-inspiring Yosemite is. Of all the places we visited on our trip, we all agree this is the place we'd return if we could only choose one. With only a few hours, we could not possibly exhaust even the joy of Yosemite Falls (which we were lucky to see as it only runs in spring and early summer).

We did briefly visit the Visitor's Center and I found a status of John Muir for a picture.

We combined bits and pieces of a couple of trails - up to Lower Falls and then across Cooke's Meadow. Along the way, we visited the spot where John Muir built his cabin.

Once there, it's easy to see why he picked that spot, though all the visitors would drive him away quickly enough today.

We saw deer, but were most impressed by the pair of coyotes that wandered through the meadow, ignoring the people.

We also spotted red-headed woodpeckers and many stellar jays.

After our walk, we lunched near El Capitan, then headed out. There were more mountains to cross (6,192 feet) and Google maps sent us down a shortcut called Old Priest Grade that must be so-named for all the prayers people say while traveling along it. Luckily, the van made it down without mishap.

We arrived at a little haven, the home of friends from our college days and their beautiful family of sweet girls. They fed us a scrumptious dinner and let the children romp in their pool despite the chilly water.

Total driving for day 13 - 122 miles.

Day 14: Our lovely hosts provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a laundry room for our piles of dirty clothes, and even graciously let Kansas Dad set up our tent and rain fly in the front yard, which had been crammed in their bags all wet from the rain at Sequoia for three nights. Oh, and allowed the children to play in the pool off and on all day long! It was a perfectly restorative day and we cannot thank them enough for their hospitality.

Total driving for day 14 - 16 miles. (Kansas Dad went grocery shopping.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gritty Martyrdom: The Power and the Glory

by Graham Greene

I only took two books on our big camping trip: The Man Who Was Thursday and The Power and the Glory. I'm not sure they are the most appropriate books for a camping trip, but they were both enthralling.

Graham Greene's book follows the last priest in a beleaguered state of Mexico during a recent persecution, a priest not of courage but one of fear and failure. Pursued by a lieutenant determined to rid his state of misleading Catholic priests and their lies, this priest becomes like an animal and yet is always something more by virtue of his priesthood. To the priest's dismay, villagers accept arrest and even execution rather than revealing him to the lieutenant.

The power of Reconciliation is a recurring theme of the book. Though the priest hears confessions wherever he goes, there is no priest to hear his.
Now that he no longer despaired it didn't mean, of course, that he wasn't damned -- it was simply that after a time the mystery became too great, a damned man putting God into the mouths of men: an odd sort of servant, that, for the devil. His mind was full of a simplified mythology: Michael dressed in armour slew a dragon, and the angels fell through space like comets with beautiful streaming hair because they were jealous, so one of the Fathers had said, of what God intended for men -- the enormous privilege of life -- this life.
During his wanderings and ill-fated attempts to leave the state, he encounters a poor filthy scheming man who discovers his secret and follows him in the hopes of a reward for leading authorities to him. He's not Catholic, but attempts a confession to lead the priest to reveal himself.
How often the priest had heard the same confession -- Man was so limited he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization -- it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt. 
One of his greatest sins lead to the birth of a daughter, one who scorns him and yet has his steady love. Her very existence brings him joy, a secret warmth in his heart.
He couldn't say to himself that he wished his sin has never exited, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant and he loved the fruit of it. He needed a confessor to draw his mind slowly down the drab passages which led to grief and repentance.
As the book progresses, the priest appears to fall farther and farther from his previous life. He becomes dirty, disheveled, losing all of his Mass articles. At one point, he is arrested on a minor charge and believes he will be executed as soon as they figure out who he really is.
Once he glanced quickly and nervously up at the old crumpled newspaper cutting and thought, It's not very like me now. What an unbearable creature he must have been in those days -- and yet in those days he had been comparatively innocent. That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins -- impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity -- cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone; now in his corruption he had learnt...[His thoughts are interrupted here by the lieutenant.]
In the end, he is captured. He had traveled to a lonely spot, a trap, but there was a hardened criminal who wanted to confess. Even he seems unsure whether it was courage or pride that led him to the trap. As they journey back to the city, the lieutenant and the priest talk, of the people.
The lieutenant said, 'Those men I shot. They were my own people. I wanted to give them the whole world.'
'Well, who knows? Perhaps that's what you did.'
They talk of love. The priest says:
God is love. I don't say the heart doesn't feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn't recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us -- God's love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.
Confused, the lieutenant can't understand why the priest feels he is damned. If he were his "boss" (as God is), he'd give him a promotion or honor him for the sacrifice he is making.
'I'm not as dishonest as you think I am. Why do you think I tell people out of the pulpit that they're in danger of damnation if death catches them unawares? I'm not telling them fairy stories I don't believe myself. I don't know a thing about the mercy of God: I don't know how awful the human heart looks to Him. But I do know this -- that if there's ever been a single man in this state damned, then I'll be damned too.' He said slowly, 'I wouldn't want it to be any different. I just want justice, that's all.'
In the end, he feels himself a failure, a failure as a person, a failure as a priest. His end is ignominious, not a glorious martyr's death.
What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead -- soon he wouldn't even be a memory -- perhaps after all he was not at the moment afraid of damnation -- even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted -- to be a saint.
Though perhaps it is a martyr's death. A young boy is the city, one who mostly scorned the saint stories his mother reads, is intrigued by the whiskey priest's execution. His mother, discomfited by the priest when he was alive, acknowledges him as a martyr. The idea of faith grows in the boy's eyes and he is emboldened and proud when a new priest arrives at their door.

Unlike books on saints or biographies of saints, this fictionalized account of the situation in Mexico (with which the author was familiar as journalist) provides a gritty reality of a sinful man who happens to be a priest. His pride and his despair, his courage and his cowardice, intermingle throughout the book.

The figure of Coral Fellows seems minor but is fascinating. She's a young American girl living with her disillusioned parents (a father who fails to manage the business well and a mother who fails to manage life well). She's an atheist, but instinctively knows it is right to protect the priest from the authorities. The reader can only guess at the events that transpire outside of the book that lead to her presumed death, but it seems clear the American criminal to whom the priest travels for his final confession was involved. Perhaps she sheltered him as well, and suffered death at his hands. Or perhaps she was sheltering the criminal and was killed by Mexican authorities in the crossfire. What does it mean that this young girl was willing to risk her own life for the priest? What does it mean that her life was taken? I wonder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 11-12: Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 11: We woke to a misty morning at Sequoia. We hadn't noticed any bears, but there were mule deer wandering through the campground. We visited the Foothills Visitor's Center which had only a few small exhibits and rather unhelpful rangers. We wanted to know the grade going up to the see the giant sequoias. Kansas Dad was a little worried about the van making it up the mountain as sequoias only grow above 4,000 or 5,000 feet. However, Kansas Dad insisted we had promised the children they would see giant sequoia trees and it seemed silly to have driven so far and miss them. So up we went!

It was damp and chilly with low clouds, but the trees still looked magnificent. The Giants Forest Museum is larger than the Foothills Visitors Center with lots of attractive and informative displays. Then we walked the Big Trees Trail, which is an easy short paved trail.

It's always a little sad to me when they pave trails, but I understand that it not only allows access to visitors of all abilities but also protects the environment. The paved trails often visit the most famous sites and this one also provided evidence of all sorts of information about the sequoias so you could see exactly what happens over time.

It appears the trees don't really die; they just eventually tip over, leaving exposed enormous roots.

Sadly, the trip down the mountain was more exciting than Kansas Dad would have hoped. The van's engine struggled for a while then made a large clumping noise before dwindling to a whine. Kansas Dad carefully steered us slowly down the rest of the mountain amidst our prayers we'd at least make it to the visitor's center, desperately hoping we wouldn't be stranded on the long winding road, blocking the path for other visitors and (horrors!) having to walk down that busy highway with our four children.

We did make it down, which was good, but then Kansas Dad spent hours trying to use the pay phone (no cell service) to communicate with our insurance company for the tow service, our mechanic back home (because he knew the problem was the same we had last year and the part should be covered by the warranty company), the warranty company, a rental company (failed on that count and had to find a rental later), and a number of different area mechanics before finding one that would have time to look at the van that day (Friday afternoon).

Finally, he made arrangements and a tow truck came for the van.

Kansas Dad rode along with him and the kids and I waited at the visitor's center. I didn't want to go on any trials or wander far because Kansas Dad had no way to reach us, so we sat outside for a few hours. The kids were terrific. We had a deck of cards and played lots of games. They taught me the first taekwondo form. When the visitor's center closed, the nicest ranger at Sequoia asked First Son to help her fold the flag. (The other rangers had been no help at all when we were trying to find a cab. No one offered a phone and they couldn't even find a recent phone book to look up a rental car company. We were surprised and disappointed.)

They read their own books, and finally, we managed the last few minutes by reading from a book I had on my Kindle.

Kansas Dad had rented the last minivan in the area, booked the last hotel room in the city, and rushed back to Sequoia to pick us up. The mechanics had promised to leave the van where we could get it, but when we got there, it was locked in the garage. So there we were without clothes or toiletries. Sigh.

We did find a terrific Chinese restaurant thanks to Yelp and then found a superstore for some t-shirts and toothbrushes.

Total driving for day 11 - 40 miles (not counting the miles the van was towed or the miles in the rental van).

Day 12: Kansas Dad picked up our bags first thing in the morning. Since we had to wait on the mechanics, we decided to drive up to King's Canyon National Park, originally not on our itinerary. We didn't have time to drive to the actual canyon because we wanted to be back to town in time to pick up the van before the mechanic closed (praying it would be ready and we wouldn't have to stay the whole weekend!).

We walked to the General Grant Tree and then drove a bit in the park before heading back.

This is one of the trees people have lived in over the years. They even stabled horses here at one point.

It was still misty, of course, which is a regular weather pattern where sequoia thrive.

Our mechanic was terrific and finished the van in time for us to pick it up. We had just enough time to stop and buy First Daughter a new pair of shoes since hers were literally falling to pieces. Then we started our drive to Yosemite, glad to have at least half a day there.

Total driving in the rental van - about 140 miles. (The kids discovered reading lights in the rental and have declared it's the one "need" we we finally replace our van.)

The drive to Yosemite would have been more beautiful in daylight, but we were glad to find a place to stay overnight near the park for less than $200. (We had given up our camping site the day before.)
Total driving in our van - 145 miles.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Story and History: A Traveller in Rome

by H. V. Morton

Before our trip to Rome, the priest who was leading the trip lent me three books: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (which I had already read), A Traveller in Rome, and Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces (which I didn't have time to read, what with the Grand Adventure and all). This book I did read, however, and it was an absolute delight!

H.V. Morton was a premier travel writer in his day (this book was published in 1957). His delightful writing abounds with history, art, architecture, and stories of his own wanderings in Rome. He would make an acquaintance and then end up somewhere amazing and generally off-limits, like the Papal Gardens.

On his visit to the Papal Gardens, his guide points out a bouquet of fresh flowers in the hands of a status of Mary, telling him the Pope has picked them for her.
What a beautiful moment this must have been: the old pontiff all alone in the garden in his white caped soutane and his red velvet shoes, looking about among the hedge banks on a quiet sunny afternoon for wild flowers to give the Madonna.
He evokes the sounds and spirit of earlier times in the city.
One can imagine what it must have been like to walk through the deserted Forum on a day of the games and to hear the flapping of this great awning, then to be pulled up by a savage roar of sound from eighty thousand voices.
Never failing to find the humor in stories of old and unexpected accomplishments, he wrote of the Altar of Peace, awarded to Augustus when peace descended upon the Empire. The altar was in pieces, scattered, and some still buried.
How all these detached fragments were brought together, and the other parts dug out from beneath the palace, is one of the great romances of excavation; and when the Fascists come up for judgment perhaps the reconstruction of the Altar of Peace will cancel out their graceless Via della Conciliazione.
My anticipation for our trip only increased while reading this beautiful book.
When darkness falls the old streets of Rome sink back into a former existence and fill with a stealthy vitality. Ancient palaces stand in the narrow ways like masked conspirators, and the network of stout iron grilles which masks their lower windows brings thoughts of knavery and prisons; the forms of men ahead, slipping into archways or side turnings, rouse in the mind the fears that such streets seem designed to provoke. Happily, sometimes from an upper storey floats down the reassuring voice of Bing Crosby, saying that love is all.
Though not Catholic, Morton appreciated the faith at the heart of Rome. He attended a Mass spoken by an American priest at the altar of St. Gregory at St. Peter's. After the Mass, waiting for his friend, he ducked into a confessional himself, just to chat with the amiable priest. Their conversation ended abruptly when a woman appeared.
We were interrupted by a woman who slipped into the confessional with her little burden of sins; soon she would emerge without it, looking much happier.
As they walked away from the church, the American priest asked him what most impressed him about St. Peter's.
I told him that it was not its size, but its continuity. There is nothing else in the world like it. The seed of faith, love and reverence planted on this hillside in the days of pagan Rome had grown into this colossal shrine, and the size of St. Peter's, the fact that you scarcely know where to look or what to look for, disguises its function: that it is really a shrine, the trophy of Anacletus grown and developed beyond imagination of its originators.
While writing about the Vatican, he shared anecdotes about Popes and events. I especially enjoyed one about a Protestant who tried to convert the Pope.
The most determined missionary was a Scottish minister who had convinced himself that the 'whore of Babylon' in Revelations was the Pope, and that it was his duty to go to Rome and win him over to Presbyterianism. He managed to get near the Pope during a ceremony in St. Peter's and, approaching, cried in a loud voice: 'O thou beast of nature with seven heads and ten horns! thou mother of harlots, arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls! throw away the golden cup of abominations, and the filthiness of thy fornication!'
The Swiss Guard would have thrown him in prison, but the Pope took a kindlier view.
The Pope paid his passage home to Scotland and remarked that he was 'obliged to him for his good intentions and for undertaking such a long journey with a view to do good.'
Just before leaving Rome, Morton visits St. John Calybit, at the time one of the best hospitals in Rome, on Isola Tiberina, an island in the Tiber. Run by the Brothers of St. John of God, the hospital was built upon an ancient place of healing. Of course, his inquiries lead to a tour and conversations with the brothers.
And when I stood on the Tiber embankment and looked back at the island, I thought that in a world in which evil is striving for the mastery of the minds of men, it is with happiness and gratitude that ones sees in places such as this how a good deed can grow and prosper through the centuries. To seek out good thoughts and to reverence them is the privilege of those who have lived for no matter how brief a time in the mother city of the western world.
 If you are going to Rome, this book is superb preparation. If you cannot go to Rome, assuage yourself with this book; it's almost an adequate substitute.

Friday, July 8, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 9-10: Hoover Dam and Death Valley National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 9: Our goal was to drive to Hoover Day, get there right after lunch, spend about an hour there, and then drive the rest of the way to Death Valley in time for a late dinner.

We tried to be up and out early in the morning, so of course we left around 9:30 am. We had to stop quickly at the Post Office so we could mail postcards with the Grand Canyon postmark. We didn't arrive at Hoover Dam until after 3 pm. I wanted to take the Powerplant Tour, so we could see the generators.

First Son had read about Hoover Dam in his Book of Marvels so we were both excited to see Hoover Dam in person. The video presentation at the beginning of the tour is quite the marketing scheme. Kansas Dad and I immediately contrasted it with the ranger talks we had heard about the Colorado River at Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks, but the children didn't make the connection until we started talking about it (in hushed tones so we wouldn't upset the guides). The tour is a bit expensive once you add it all up for six people, but the difference between it and just the Visitor's Center isn't much. We all enjoyed riding the elevators, walking through the rocks, and feeling the thrum of the generators.

The tour is only 30 minutes, but we had to wait for it to start and then the children explored the Visitor's Center much longer than I thought they would. We had only limited time outdoors before everything closed at 5 pm, which meant we were leaving Hoover Dam much later than planned and were hungry for dinner.

We shopped for groceries and ate a hurried dinner in the grocery store parking lot before continuing our drive. Nevertheless, darkness caught us when we were still more than an hour from a campsite at Death Valley. The last hour is a desolate drive through uninhabited land without cell phone service. I was nervous about continuing, so we decided to find a hotel in Pahrump, NV. (Kansas Dad was glad when he heard it was still over 90 degrees in Death Valley.)

Total driving for day 9 - 335 miles.

Day 10: My fears were unfounded as we made the drive into Death Valley National Park the following morning without incident. (Though they were also justified as the van started to break down on our drive out of Death Valley National Park later in the day.)

We stopped at Zabriskie Point as we drove into the park, shortly after visiting the worst vault toilets of the entire trip.

After a brief stop at the Visitor's Center, we decided to drive down to the Badwater Sea Flats. At 282 feet below sea level, it's the lowest point in the United States.

sea salt mush
You can walk right out on the salt flats, a nice flat straight walk.

On the way back to the Visitor's Center (and the only way out of the park), we drove through Artist's Palette, a one-way nine mile paved road with twists and turns through amazing volcanic and other rock structures.

We ate a quick lunch outside the Visitor's Center and then began the long slow drive up and out of Death Valley. At one point, there was a sign to turn off air conditioning for the next twenty miles, which Kansas Dad did. Sadly, at the end of the twenty miles, it wouldn't turn back on. We didn't know it at the time, but this was when the van started to sicken. Our poor van had to climb and climb to go over the pass at 4,944 feet.

Then poor Kansas Dad had to drive through more desert temperatures without air conditioning until we finally got near Sequoia. Unfortunately, we arrived at dusk as rain threatened. Kansas Dad managed to get some dinner made and the tent up as I frantically moved our food (and booster seats!) to the bear locker and cleaned out the van. We ate dinner huddled under the open back door of the van amidst a downpour.

Easily the worst night of the trip, it would have been a lovely camping spot without the cold and the rain and the anxiety Kansas Dad suffered as he worried about the broken air conditioning and another climb up a mountain the following day to see the giant sequoias. Still, the tent kept us dry.

Total miles for day 10 - 423 miles.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pets, Wild Animals, Friends, and Family: Hilary McKay's Lulu Series

I read Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay along with Second Daughter. Then I checked the rest of the books out of the library and read through them quickly to see if the whole series was worthwhile and oh, it is!

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea tells of the seaside vacation Lulu and Mellie take with Lulu's parents and her dog. I love how Lulu's parents respond to Mellie's frustrating kite kit. In the end, of course, they adopt and tame the kind but wild young dog.

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag shows Lulu and Mellie's grandmother responding to all of Lulu's pets but happily taking in one of her own when the perfect one lands on their doorstep.

Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door is my favorite of the Lulu books. A new boy next door has a rabbit but is unable to enjoy or properly care for him. Rather than rabbit-napping the bunny or torturing the boy, Lulu and Mellie discover a fantastic way to foster friendships all around.

Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain begins with a lovely description of a furious downpour Lulu cannot resist. Of course a half-drowned hedgehog is swept right before her and immediately scooped up and deposited on her grandmother's sofa. Lulu must learn to let her wild hedgehog wander, recruiting all her neighbors to help keep him safe. One of my favorite parts of this book tells of her racing to her neighbor's house with a library book all about hedgehogs to teach how to properly care for them.

Lulu and the Hamster in the Night tells of Lulu's newest rescue, a hamster abandoned by a classmate. In what I think is a first for the series, Lulu tells a lie in order to smuggle her hamster to her grandmother's house overnight. She faces quite a bit of anxiety and chagrin for her decision and, in the end, she tries to confess to her parents. Her grandmother graciously forgives her.

The books are full of little jokes to delight new readers. Sam, for example, is Lulu's old dog who can't stand dogs.
Sam didn't know, and would never have guessed, that he was a dog himself.
Lulu's grandmother declares her granddaughters beautiful and then demands they clean themselves up.
"I thought you said we were beautiful," objected Mellie.
"Beautiful? Yes!" said Nan. "Respectable? No!"
Lulu's mother happily agrees to bake a carrot cake for the bunny birthday party the girls plan, as long as they do all the measuring, mixing, pouring into the cake pan, cleaning up, and reminding her to put it in the oven and take it out again.

I love how in every book, Lulu and Mellie or their friends receive encouragement and support from the mothers and fathers and grandmothers and teachers. Most of the time, they are able to be independent, walking home from school and planning parties, but at just the right times, a trusted grown-up helps implement a solution, usually one devised by the children. That's the kind of parent I want to be - here when they need me, but back a few paces so they can see what they can do.

If Second Daughter doesn't read these books on her own, they'll be on the list from which she can choose for the books we read together during her continuing reading lessons next year. These books would be enjoyable for a grown-up buddy-reading as well. (It only took a few books for me to tire of the Boxcar Children series and decide those would be relegated to independent reading only.)

Monday, July 4, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 7-8: Grand Canyon National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Still on day 7 - We drove from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to Grand Canyon National Park, through the east entrance. The first visitor's center we reached was Desert View with the Watchtower.

About five minutes after we reached the edge, Second Son asked, "Can we go now?"

There are lots of nice people visiting the national parks who are willing to take family pictures. Too bad our five-year-old makes that face every time.

We reached our campground in time to have lunch there and managed to come upon a very enjoyable Critter Chat. Kansas Dad thinks the National Park Service sends their A team to the Grand Canyon.

We hiked just a tiny bit of the Rim Trail and visited the Yavapai Geology Museum. There were lots of mule deer wandering around. Our extra layers kept us warmer during the night, though walking Second Son to the bathroom in the freezing weather (low of 31) was only bearable because of the astoundingly clear night sky (which he didn't appreciate, sigh).

Total driving for Day 7 - 126 miles.

Day 8 - We had new neighbors when we woke up, a young family from San Francisco with a two-year-old who won the hearts of our children, especially the girls. We could barely pull them away from him quickly enough to make it to an 11 am Ranger-guided Fossil Walk. She talked a lot about the geology of the canyon but the highlight for the children was the last part when she wandered on the rocks and pointed out fossils under our feet. I think First Daughter took pictures of each one.

After the ranger talk, we walked back to the main visitor's center for a packed lunch of peanut butter and honey roll-ups before attempting a little hike on the Bright Angel Trail.

Second Daughter, as usual, spotted a small creature of interest as hundreds of other visitors wandered obliviously past.

We also spied a California Condor just after lunch.

The hike on Bright Angel Trail was breath-taking, but emotionally exhausting. Kansas Dad and I were both too concerned with keeping our four children away from the edge to appreciate the views. So we only hiked about twenty minutes down the trail before turning around.

The highlight of Grand Canyon for the kids was the shuttle ride we took to Hermit's Rest and back again. Second Son especially loved riding the bus more than looking at the canyon.

Kansas Dad and I would love to return to the Grand Canyon and hike some more without young children. I'm glad we visited, but it was probably one of our least favorite parks because there were so many people (and it must be much worse later in the season!) and we were always discomfited by the distance or lack thereof between our children and the edge. The main visitor areas all have fences along the rim, but the disadvantage there is the theme-park aura of parking lots, large paved areas, lots of people and restaurants, and (ironically) the fences.

Total driving for Day 8 - 10 miles (and most of that was Kansas Dad trying to find us when the kids were tired, the shuttle bus was full, and he hiked back to the van to come back and pick us up).

Saturday, July 2, 2016

April, May, and June 2016 Book Reports

City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II's Krakow by George Weigel, with Carrie Gress and Stephen Weigel - link to my post. (copy provided by Blogging for Books)

Father Junipero Serra by Ivy Bolton  - link to my post. (purchased used)

A Triumph for Flavius by Caroline Dale Snedeker - link to my post. (purchased copy)

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett is a series of thirteen books following the adventures of three orphans evading and battling Count Olaf, a distant relation attempting to access their fortune. I think ids wonder about terrible things happening and whether they can handle it. These particular children work through their problems, reasoning answers and solutions. They build inventions, search through books for knowledge, and act bravely. There are lots of references to mythology and fiction, humorous examples, and plenty of explanations for idiomatic phrases. With each book, there are more mysteries. I was frustrated at the overwhelming references and depictions of the world as a "treacherous place" without any balancing goodness and at the complete inability of any adult to provide solace or security. My biggest frustration was the astounding number of unanswered questions at the end of the series. Real life often involves unanswered questions, but a children's series that drags through thirteen books should address just about everything. We listened to these books on audio CDs from the library. The ones read by the author are terribly narrated (write, don't read please!), but Tim Curry does a fantastic job on the others. Overall, the kids enjoyed them; I'm glad we're done; I'd suggest you just let your kids read them as a small part of their reading time. (audiobooks from the library)

Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay - link to my post. (library copy)

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis - link to my post. (purchased copy)

Saint Athanasius by F. A. Forbes - link to my post. (owned copy)

Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - I read portions of this to the children and wanted to read the entire poem myself. I found a lovely old copy of it at the library with a few helpful notes, so I can't really speak for the Kindle version linked here. I couldn't help thinking Evangeline would have been better off just settling down at her betrothed's father's house, but it's meant to be romantic.  (library copy)

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry - This is the fictionalized account of a burro that lived in the Grand Canyon, making friends with a few of the early settlers. My children loved listening to this story and were very happy to walk a bit of Bright Angel Trail in his honor when we visited the Grand Canyon. (

The Green Ember by S. D. Smith - We listened to this on a trip early this spring. It received high marks from Kansas Dad. ("That wasn't bad.") In the book, a civilization of rabbits is facing dire threats from wolves and birds of prey. Two young rabbits are caught in the maelstrom and must mature quickly, using their talents to protect their people..ur...rabbits. The ending is tremendously exciting, but leaves the rabbits in a world still in upheaval. (The kids demanded the sequel, and were shocked when I said it hadn't been written yet. Guess we read lots of old books!) The children were all enthralled. I think the text is somewhat awkward in places. The author has the potential to write something exceptionally good and a more involved editor might get him there. (Audible recording purchased for free or inexpensively with a publisher's deal, along with the Kindle version of the book)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (linked version translated by William Butcher) - I wanted Kansas Dad to choose at least one audio book for our Grand Adventure. While he says the books we choose are fine, he always seems reluctant to actually listen to them. After much discussion and debate, he decided Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was a good option. I then spent far too long searching through the available version on Audible (to use our free trial credit) and finally picked this one (that's not an affiliate link because I can't seem to find it on Amazon) which one of the reviewers identified as the best translation available on audio. We all enjoyed it. The children would often laugh at appropriate times, so I know they were paying attention. We sometimes got bogged down in the "natural science" of the book, but that's part of Jules Verne who's explored new literary territory. (audio book purchased during our free trial at Audible)

The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith - This is a short story, a bit of history that happens before The Green Ember above. It's not so much a prequel as a legend. I knew the children would love to hear more, so I purchased this before our Grand Adventure. There were still some awkward phrasings (one conversation in particular just didn't flow well), but the story is a great one of courage, sacrifice, and perseverance, just as legends should be. (audio book purchased from Audible)

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton - link to my post. (owned copy)

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald is a series of stories about children with problems cured by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in unusual and unexpected ways. A girl who refuses to take a bath, for example, is allowed to become covered in soil and then planted in radish seeds. The cures would never work, but the ridiculous proposals and results will entertain the children. I suppose they might even think about being cured themselves of some of the maladies. (library copy)

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey is a humorous story of a young man in a small town who solves problems and mysteries in each chapter. My favorite chapter would be a particular treat for a young person who knows the tales of Rip Van Winkle, the Pied Piper, and Odysseus. While it occassionally seems to show its age (the African Americans and Native Americans, for example, aren't depicted as you might find in a more modern book, though I think it's acceptable), the book is worth reading and will be on the list of potential books from which to choose for independent reading during our school year. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). 

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks - another affiliate link.

Any links to RC History and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.

Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.