A visit to the California Academy of Sciences, located in SF’s Golden Gate Park needs no excuse other than the place itself. However, in this case, there is a story behind our trip there.

We chose our temporary place of abode in SF based on the accessibility it afforded to the park. The N-Judah tram line stopped a mere block and a half away, and dropped us off about as close to the front door of the Cal Academy as it’s possible to get if you’re not already on foot.

On my previous trip to San Francisco in December of 2013, I was privileged to be shown around the Cal Academy by [personal profile] emelbe, who volunteers there regularly. [personal profile] emelbe drew my attention to the book Pierre the Penguin and suggested I take it home to the then-13-month-old Humuhumu. I did.

I have read Pierre the Penguin to her, and then to Keiki, at least once a week ever since. She has the book memorised.

Pierre is an African penguin who lives at the Cal Academy along with 19 other penguins. One day, Pierre moulted as usual. Less usual was the fear he developed of going into the water, a necessary step to stimulate the re-growth of his feathers. He stayed bare. The other penguins began to pick on him. Aquatic biologist Pam tried a heater and medication to get Pierre back into the water, but it didn’t work. Eventually, she hit on the idea of making Pierre a tiny neoprene wetsuit. (The wetsuit is on display in the Academy bookshop.) Not only did this keep Pierre warm in the water, it also made him appear more like a feathered penguin, which stopped the other penguins from bullying him. He was able to resume diving and a few weeks later, his feathers had regrown.

When we told Humuhumu that we would be able to visit Pierre on our trip to the USA, it became her main focus. Every day she would ask, “Are we going to see Pierre?” Finally the day arrived when we could say yes.

It was a tremendous joy to watch her tear from one end to the other of African Hall toward the penguin enclosure, crowing, “Pierre! Pierre! Pierre! Pierre!” If I ever forget to be grateful, I need only remember this event to recall the level of privilege I’m able to afford to my child: to travel from one side of the globe to the other to visit a penguin she’s been reading about since she was one. OK, so that wasn’t the only reason we made the journey, but to be able to include it was still remarkably fortunate.

If that weren’t enough, we got to see Pam (nb: I think it was actually an Amy, but never mind) pop out of the hidden door in the sky-painted wall with fish in her pail, and feed the penguins (twice a day without fail).

On the day Humuhumu returned to nursery, her key worker asked her who she met on her trip to the USA. Her first answer: “Pierre!” The nursery staff asked who Pierre was: perhaps a member of the family? She shook her head. Who is Pierre, then? “A penguin!”

They thought she was joking and asked me about it when I picked her up, so I got to explain to them that yes, Pierre is literally a penguin and yes, that was the highlight of her trip.


Penguins!

Picspam, +25 )
I’ve wanted to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Northern California since [personal profile] emelbe first introduced me to photos of it, which was at least 10 years ago. Knowing the aquarium was there heavily influenced our decision to stay in Pacific Grove once the Santa Cruz portion of our trip was done. We ended up going to the aquarium twice and spending most of the day there both times. It’s huge and beautifully set up and there are so many interactive things for the children. Nearly all of the second floor is splash pools and mazes and tanks on their level (e.g. the floor) and activities.

It was also a rather good Pokéspot because free wi-fi + 5 Pokéstops with lures going almost constantly + gym + historical spot next to the ocean == many, varied and frequent Pokémon appearances.

All of these images were taken with my phone. I brought my dSLR and nice telephoto lens, but they proved too much of a faff to deal with when chasing around two active children. I’m a bit sad I didn’t manage to get a good shot of an otter or from the shore bird enclosure (they come to within inches of the humans and there are no barriers) or of the Great Wave exhibit where you stand under a glass ceiling and the water crashes over you. I guess we’ll just have to return again, though my advice to anyone else contemplating a visit would be to avoid Labor Day weekend. Our first visit was on the Saturday and it was heaving. The Tuesday visit (with my aunt + cousin) was much calmer.

An aquarium specialty is truly enormous tanks. Below is a portion of a floor-to-ceiling one that, when walked through, gives the impression that the fish are circling around you.


Many sea creatures. A few land creatures, too. )

Finally, Humuhumu and the bloke discovered an interactive in the ¡Viva Baja! exhibit where you could colour in your own fish, e-mail it to yourself and then view a 3D version of your fish design swimming in the ocean. Here is Humuhumu’s vibrant fish.
Because I know I'll never remember everything if I wait until after the trip to write it down, I present to you the Santa Cruz picspam. (PS sorry if the photos don't show; all my phone images back up automatically to Google Photos & I don't have the energy to transfer this curation to Flickr right now
PPS I CAUGHT A PIKACHU AT THE HOTEL YESTERDAY)


Sunday evening arrival at the resort. Humuhumu dancing in the golden hour.

+17 )
The coronation of Princess Humuhumu
The Coronation of Princess Humuhumu. Daisy chain by Daddy.

Princess Humuhumu
Happy Princess Humuhumu in her favourite dress & daisy chain crown.
I've had an epic few days. I went to London on Thursday, worked my butt off getting stuff done for the Friday deadline, did an outreach event (including a talk and three workshops) in Wimbledon for 60 detached-but-then-totally-excited teenagers on Friday afternoon, raced back to college to drop off my kit and then got on a train to Norfolk to meet the bloke & the children at the out-laws for the weekend. Fabulous weather in East Anglia meant we spent nearly all of it outdoors.

We drove back to Worcestershire on Sunday afternoon (a 3.5 hour drive). After turfing everyone out of the car and re-packing my overnight bag, I got back into the car and drove 1.5 hours to a beautiful venue in Oxfordshire to attend an ex-work-colleague's small but perfectly formed wedding. The other work colleague in attendance and I were surprised to find ourselves in the company of mostly-relatives. I feel very privileged to have been invited. There was a band and dancing and wine and laughter, and it seemed to be a memorable and happy occasion for all.

I drove back this morning, arriving home at noon, and worked the rest of the day before going to meet the bloke at the station and pick up the kids. Also, I made supper. Can I have my Supermum badge now please?

Trowel-wielding toddler
Trowel-wielding toddler.

Helping Grandpa flatten molehills
Grandpa flattens molehills with a rake. Keiki supervises.

[My parents, Oma, Keiki, cousins in the front garden at the out-law's house in the Pacific Northwest.]

At the end of our recent flying visit to the States, Keiki and my parents and I drove up to my aunt&uncle-out-law's house nearby. Keiki and I stayed overnight, and Aunt-Out-Law treated us to VIP service to the airport the next morning, taking our heavy luggage to the check-in desk and walking us all the way to the security gate. But before that, we had a birthday barbecue for Uncle-Out-Law, with all the cousins. It was brilliant, and there are lots of photos of family and celebrations below the cut.

+15 photos )
Mine, all mine
Keiki and "his" box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Thanks to him, I have discovered that if you manage to prise the leftover milk from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of your possessive baby's fingers and add it to your morning cup of filter coffee, you can create a pumpkin spice latte.
Keiki with Grandma & Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa teach Keiki how to make a grass blade whistle.

The wild Keiki in the grass
Behold the wild Keiki in the grass.

It has taken three days of my six-day trip here to sort out my parents' internet connection, which is a bit longer than I'd hoped to spend on it. The important thing is that it seems to be working now. There was an intermittent problem which took a while - and multiple calls to service provider & visits by technicians - to fix. They ended up replacing all of the coax cable ends and connectors from the pole to the wall socket in house and that did the trick. The last tech also found a problem with the incoming signal from the roadside, which has presumably been affecting all my parents' elderly neighbours whether they knew it or not, so that should get fixed as well. Probably after I leave, which is non-ideal, but it will hopefully end up helping to vindicate the World's Most Expensive Tech Support Trip.

Last night I made the mistake of going to bed at 21:30, which meant I was wide awake at 04:30. It's going to take a lot of cups of tea to keep me awake for another 2.5 hours. I'd better get started on that.

ETA: Forgot to tell the best part of the story so far, which is the bit where my parents meticulously recorded my flight details on their wall calendar...on the wrong day. This resulted in me popping out from baggage claim after my (delayed) 9.5 hour flight and an hour's slog through immigration/border control with my suitcase and a delirious baby in a pushchair and not finding my father, who is usually strolling up and down the Arrivals hall.

I got out my mobile and dialed my parents. Dad answered after three rings. "Hello?"
"Hi Dad, it's me. Where are you?"
"I'm here!"
"Okay, where?"
"What?"
"Where, specifically, are you? Are you in Arrivals, or the car park, or outside?"
There is a long and ominous pause.
"I'm at home. Aren't you arriving tomorrow?"
"...No, Dad, I'm in the airport."

NB: My parents live over an hour's drive from the nearest international airport. That was an expensive taxi ride.

I'm sure this memory will be funny eventually. Like in five years or so.
Since I knew we were going to lean heavily on the grandparents for child care on Wednesday and Thursday, I used Tuesday to take the children out as much as possible. (As it turned out, I overdid it a little, both for them and myself, as I was shattered during the evening conference session.) In the morning, we explored the many playgrounds in the enormous Prater Park near our accommodation. We sampled no less than four different ones. Our favourite was the last, as it featured a generous sand pit. In the afternoon, we took the tram to the Belvedere, the mansions-turned-museums with formal gardens that we stayed over the road from the last time we were in Vienna.

Humuhumu & Gryphon 1
Humuhumu in front of one of the many gryphons guarding the formal gardens.

+14 photos )

We walked up to Karlsplatz and the U-bahn in the late afternoon sunshine. For the first time since we'd left the house in the morning, Humuhumu asked for a pick-up, and as she lay her head on my shoulder I suddenly realised that she'd walked (or run) at least five kilometres that day. Not bad going for three-year-old legs. And we'd even forgotten to celebrate Cake O'Clock. We compensated by having Chocolate O'Clock when we got home, with Manner wafers and Mozart balls.
Drive-by post to point out that cake-eating has been happening along with conference attendance.

Hazelnut cake & hot chocolate
Humuhumu with her slice of hazelnut cake and hot chocolate.

Have some of your cake too
Humuhumu sampling my truffle cake.
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