Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Camp Conrad Chinook

The campfire is always the place where people remember their summer vacations best. Diabetes Camp is no different. The leader tells a story that warms the hearts and minds and makes people savor the moment. The wood cackles in the fireplace and it’s dark beneath a thousand pine and oak trees on this hill near Redlands, in Southern California in the early part of the summer of 2008.

The flames danced and so did the staff, as well as the audience. And did we ever laugh and smile and have a few tears as well this weekend. We are among 150 people at Camp Conrad Chinnock, a camp specifically created for kids with Type I diabetes.

I have two children with Type I diabetes, and we are here to bond with other families who have Type I as well as to learn the latest in diabetes research. But mostly, we’re here to have the kids feel “normal” when they do strange things like test their blood sugars up to ten times a day and give themselves insulin injections via pumps or shots.

Tonite at the campfire, we sang songs and made skits. The humor belonged to us, who have experienced the past three days together. The jokes and pokes were to ourselves and we had a few good laughs.

My boys are in bed now, almost asleep in our log cabin, with three sets of bunk beds on each half of the room, and a toilet that has not yet been opened due to permits not yet issued. Maybe next year they’ll be working, but if not, that’s ok, too.

The people who work here have created and instilled in our families a feeling of almost happiness at the chronic disease diabetes. Only those with this disease are allowed here. A special badge, of sorts.

Today, we learned from many sessions with “the doctor” and we hiked, canoed, fished, swam, shot pool and played foosball. We moms had a good cry or two. The dads did too, we were told. We learned to play with our kids, something we don’t always have time for at home. We learned that we can help each other deal with this disease, and offer ideas and advice that is truly helpful.

How do I deal with sports and my child was a topic on the mind of most of the parents? What are the current research studies on transplants learning? What hope do we have of a cure and when? When do I stop waking up in the middle of the night to check my son’s blood sugar? When is it ok to tell the child to take responsibility for their own shots? How can I let go?

The doctor addressed hundreds of questions posed by parents on topics from hormones to types of insulin and when and what amounts should be delivered and by what method?
More questions than answers, but the answers that were given were overall good ones.

We learned to get as much joy from today as possible and to concentrate on that. The kids learned to juggle, to create toys and to focus on the possibilities, not the restrictions of having the disease. They learned about juggling fire, and not to do it at home. They learned about animals, about astronomy, and about being kind to others. They made lanyards and other crafts. They climbed a wall, trees, did archery, basketball, swam and dove in the pool, rode bikes, learned about science in the nature center and made friends with other kids, staff and parents. While doing this, they learned more about how to take care of their disease. And for siblings of those with diabetes, they were “abnormal” for these three days, and enjoyed that feeling as it was a turn-around from the norm.

We leave tomorrow, stimulated and satisfied. We leave footprints and a legacy for our children that we are living day to day to day.

Thanks for the great experience at camp and we look forward to another great one ahead next year.

Grand Canyon travel tips from Ellen

Here are some travel tips for the Grand Canyon, AZ, for those who want to see the majestic glory of the United States from the rim of the widest canyon around.
The buses are the way to get around. The traffic can be frustrating and the buses are free and you won't have to wait more than 15 minutes for one to arrive. There are a lot of visitors from foreign countries, so the drivers are very good at answering questions and making announcements.

Take your time and watch your step. Most of the spills, etc. we saw were from people who were not paying attention. There are a lot of rocks to trip on; be careful.

Sunscreen and hats are called for. My baseball cap was not providing enough protection from the sun and now I have a wide brim hat that covers my face and neck. We did avoid getting burned with waterproof/sweat proof SPF 30 and finding shade whenever we could.

We did not go below the rim on foot or mule. People who do are advised to do so as early in the day as possible to avoid the heat and lack of shade. People I saw returning from the mule rides looked pretty weary.

We did laundry at Camper Services and they had $2 showers for 5 minutes. Complete grocery store at the Market Place. Most camping appeared to be full, so if you are going to camp I'd suggest looking into reseervations.

Try to take in a sunset and/or sunrise. Try to attend a ranger program.

Eastern Sierra Mountains

We’re on Hwy 15 heading home after a week in the Eastern Sierras, including Reno, Carson City, Virginia City, and Sparks.

The temp is 96 degrees and our temperatures inside the air conditioned minivan are heated at times, and relaxed at others. We made two stops since leaving Sparks at 6:30am today, in Bishop, we stopped for sandwiches at the famous Sheepherder’s restaurant and then we stopped in Ridgecrest for gas.

The highlights of the trip were of course seeing our relatives and enjoying each other’s company, a birthday party of 34 people from 10 regions of the US.

The tourist activities were in Virginia City, where we visited the old schoolhouse, and walked the sidewalks where authentic saloons and antique stores abound. We took a tour on a railroad that gave color to the many mining stories of yesteryear, and the tour guide described what life was like in the 1850’s through 1890’s, when this was one of the largest silver mines in the world.

The Comstock Lode was the biggest find, making multiple millionaires of the prospectors lucky enough to stumble on this.
Now, the lucky ones are the shopkeepers who sell their wares and are able to make a few dollars profit from the tourists.

This small town has tourism as its only visible source of revenue.

Carson City, on the other hand, is the state capital of Nevada, and also has lots of museums, but industry and politics seem to spread the economy.

Both of these cities are close to Reno, just fifteen minutes by car, and very accessible to the independent traveler with children.

Stay in the Reno hotels and venture out for the day with your children and coolers. Nothing is very expensive here, except the gold and silver that you may want to take with you!

Winters are different, with skiing in the nearby mountains and you’ll need to bring chains. We passed by some beautiful scenery on our way to and from Sans Diego. Those include, June Lake, Yosemite, and Mono Lake.

If your family is looking for a Western vacation, away from the fires of Big Sur, and close to inexpensive family travel destinations, Reno and the Eastern Sierras may be your best bet.

Cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas writing

Day 1

Departing from San Diego, CA to the downtown ship for boarding to Cabo San Lucas was smooth. The seas that evening were not.
We had our group of eight people loaded with gear for the five nights and six days at sea. We were on our way by noon, arriving at the harbor by 12:20pm. We were checked in and on the ship by 1:15pm. Two in wheelchairs (the grandparents) made the trip a bit faster than normal, because they needed to deliver and get the wheelchairs back for more cruisers. Four children, ages 6-12 and their parents in early 50’s along with two grandparents were heading for the high seas with high hopes.
The food was a plenty and the comforts were high for the start of this journey. A practice drill for 3000 plus 900 crew went smoothly; prepared for the dangers at sea we don’t anticipate this week. As we pulled away from the comfort of the B Street Pier and the Port of San Diego, the clouds were still hanging low and solid over us, remnants of a four day deluge of rain and windstorms of January. Once we past the breakwaters, however, the ocean was not our friend. Much swaying of the boat was felt among the guests. In our party, five were popping seasickness pills and three were now confined to their rooms for the night. These were some tough minutes for those no expecting to be tossed around on the boat. Sleep brought some relief to them and hopes for a better tomorrow were on their minds.

Day 2

“Much calmer today,” I overheard a person report to a friend. Yes, that is the weather report. Still cloudy, but not threatening at all.
This was our first full day on the ocean and the sun did come out so we could swim in the pool on the Lido Deck, Deck 10. Carnival Cruises make a big deal of their great service, and keep reminding us of how good it is. With high hopes for a great week, we headed to the spa/exercise area on Deck 12 for some good workouts. That was after getting each child to their respective “Camp Carnival” group. Groups are split by ages, and we have three different groups, over 12, who can come and go as they please, 9-11, who basically can come and go, with a bit of extra parent participation. And the 6-8 year olds, who need to be checked in and out each time.
The workout room was packed with equipment as well as people. They have classes, massages, and plenty of the same equipment seen at our gym at home. It was easy to access, and even had a sauna and a steam room. Later that day, we enjoyed the outdoor Jacuzzi as well, soaking up the Mexican rays and getting warmer as the day progressed. Later that evening, we posed for a photo, had a chance to meet and greet the captain, Giuseppe, from Italy and the food and beverage manager, from India. It was a very well executed meal, and most of us chose the lobster entre. We especially liked the cherries jubilee for desert, too.
After dinner, we enjoyed the “Broadway-themed” musical entertainment in style. The tunes were light and fluid. Fifteen dancers and seven musicians put us in a fantasy, rocked just a bit before bedtime. This was a solid performance of talented young people from all around the globe.

Day 3

Today we arrived in Cabo by 8. The coast was barren up to the tip of the cape, and the harbor not deep enough for our vessel. So we climbed aboard the smaller tenders which delivered us for our one day adventure on land. Our group wandered around the marina, the shops and the downtown area until we found the well-known beaches near the “Office”. Here we drank margaritas and ate lunch (see photos above). Allen and Katie went to the Glass Factory while the rest of us swam and took a boat ride to the arch(photo above( and to see the seals on the rocks nearby.
Cabo SanLucas was a newer city than most. We didn’t see much heavy traffic on the streets. It was full of tourists. On our next trip to Cabo, we’ll explore further into other regions, including San Jose del Cabo, which I understand has more culture and history to reveal.
By 4 pm, we were back on our ship and getting ready for more of the Carnival activities, kids club, etc. I was tired from a day of sun and alcohol and went to bed by 8pm. Brian fell asleep at 5pm and never woke up til the following morning.

Day 4

We were on the seas today again, this time going back North. The weather became markedly windy and colder. The winds made it impossible to play mini golf on deck as we had planned. By afternoon, the kids were in the pool and big slide, as well as the Jacuzzi. I spent two hours on deck watching the kids enjoy the fun. We had a second cocktail reception by the captain and then a formal dinner that evening. I had the short ribs and for dessert warm chocolate cake.
After dinner, Wanda and I took in the entertainment again. It was hard to stay awake, even though the show was good, I was sleepy.

Day 5
Today we head out to Ensenada, MX for the day. It’s sunny and brisk today from our cabin window. I can see the port activity here as we arrive at 8am. Many working vessels are throughout the harbor. We’ll be visiting the fish market(fish photo above) here and also our favorite winery, Santo Tomas(photo above), a few blocks inside the downtown area. We’ll be doing our shopping here for the most part.
The cruise is going to wind down tomorrow in San Diego. It’s been enjoyable to relax with the kids and the in laws. We’ve kept ourselves busy on ship with exercising and eating. We’ve taken in the locals at the shore excursions as well. We’ve gotten good sleep and will be well rested when we return.
We’ve also kept up on our work through the internet connection on the boat, so we shouldn’t have any surprises when we return to our offices.
One of the best things about Carnival is the Camp Carnival activities for the kids. They always are available and kids like them. On this cruise, there are not very many kids, so they combined some camp activities. For example, they put the 9-14 year olds together for some games. There were less than a dozen in the combined group. Had we been here over the Christmas holiday, or when schools are not in session, the numbers would be much larger, probably tripled.
The truth about cruising is that people eat more than they should. Yes, there are some fat people on this ship, and they are getting fatter.

Cruising is a family activity and it’s something that three or more generations can do together and it’s enjoyable. And it doesn’t cost a lot of money, either.

Dr. Travelbest’s advice for those who want to save money is to watch what your charge carefully. No money is used on board, people just charge on their card.
Cruising deals during a soft economy are worth considering. You can get a lot for your money, but be careful to only spend what you can afford.

Cheap Airfares

If you fly a lot, you may think you've got the best airfares.
Did you ever want to compare prices with the other passengers on the flight?
Airfare wars are already gearing up for the busy fall travel specials. Seems that when school begins, the tourists don't travel as much. October is probably the best month, with the most available seats at the lowest fares. Today, I saw $29 fares on Jet Blue advertised on Kayak. Maybe just a "promotional" fare, but now is the time to shop.
The best days to buy your tickets are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. With gas prices relatively low, people are staying on the ground more.
American Airlines (one of my favorite airlines) just increased their baggage fees. Yes, it will cost you an extra hundred dollars to take two bags both ways! Consider that before booking, too.
May you have good shopping days ahead, and don't forget Priceline, either. Only you won't know your airline or your flight times until after you book. But the price may be worth it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

California's High Desert

We travelled to beautiful Lancaster, CA and Palmdale, CA for the California Softball All Star Championships mid-July, 2009. Temperatures, as you'd expect, were in the triple digits and 144 teams were sandblasted with dust from 25 mph winds as they played.

Elevation here is around 3,000 feet and you're midway between Highway 5 and 15. It's on the way to somewhere. I'd like to visit in the winter and see the change of seasons here. I have been skiing at the local slopes, and that's an intermediate skiers delight.
The indoor photo here shows teams practicing at Frozen Ropes/San Diego, where the best trainers and players practice and learn the skills needed to improve.
The second photo is of Kiley Robinson, age 12, on North Shore Gold, who was part of the girls fastpitch team who took Third Place at State, and will be playing at the end of July in Salem, Oregon, at Nationals. Kiley and her dad, Adam, a fifth generation San Diegan, practice hitting wiffle balls twice a week in front of their home in San Diego. Her dad checked with the coach and confirmed her batting average. “It’s .550 with 28 RBI’s,” he said. Ms. Robinson inspires others to play and get involved, too. Softball has helped her learn how to communicate with other people and develop teamwork, she claims. Kiley won the North Shore Heavy Hitter award in 2009, qualifying her for a free week of camp and a month of unlimited batting cages at Frozen Ropes, San Diego.
The third photo shows the U14's practicing. They "overachieved" by winning game one and showing they belonged at this tourney, too.
A highlight of the tournament was a parade of teams, where each team chose a theme, dressed for it, and then at the end of the procession, they all traded team pins with each other. Each girl was given a dozen pins to share and trade. This was a great way to build team spirit and communication with other teams, too.
We may be back next year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

San Francisco

When you drive south into San Francisco on Highway 101, here's what you'll see. How can you not be impressed, when you see hundreds of locals walking, running and biking on the bridge?
They call it Golden, but these photos prove it's red.
San Francisco has been voted, "most romantic city" and "most popular travel destination" numerous times. Architecture and style, history and technology drive the many diverse social and cultural patterns that are seen in this thriving metropolis. Home to the 49ers, Giants, and hundreds of local wineries, SF entertains and celebrates everything green, and is environmentally conservative.
Do plan ahead if you want to get on Alcatraz Island. We were told reservations were running two weeks ahead of time last summer.
Like any big city, SF has their share of crime, traffic and inclement weather, plus crime. However, the parks are beautiful, shopping is tremendous, and people watching is unmatched.

Alcatraz Island