During the Summer, Heather has made sure that along with all of the fun and freedom, the children have been involved in positive and productive things daily. She came up with a Summer 2015 board that hangs in our dining room and includes a ‘bucket list’ of things that we wanted to do in the Summer, ‘Chef of the week'(the kids take turns in preparing meals), scriptures/articles of faith to learn and a daily checklist. Each day, the children are invited to read, write, do a chore, do some exercise and carry out an act of kindness. They record their progress by ticking boxes. For every day that they complete their tasks, they earn a little bit of pocket money. It’s been a really great way to help the kids learn to manage their time, teach the value of work and keep their skills sharp. Heather is amazing.

Board

We wanted to give the kids an opportunity to spend some their pocket money and reap the rewards of their hard work, so we took them to $1 night at Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Founded in 1907, the Boardwalk is California’s oldest surviving amusement park (thankyou Wikipedia) and it has a good old-fashioned vibe. The Big Dipper roller-Coaster, air lift, log flume, fairground-stye games. What’s nice about it is that it is full of families, even into the evening and on a Monday and Tuesday night, all rides, hot dogs and candy floss are only $1!

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Heather and I had our first Californian date at the Boardwalk around a year ago and loved it, so we were excited to take the kids.

It was a great night – the older kids rode on flying cars, while Charlotte and Olive went on the more tame equivalent. Swing rides, shooting baskets, root beer, candy floss. Olive won a Hello Kitty-in-a-leopardprint-onesie toy (what more could any child want?) in a water-squirting game with a little bit of help from Dad. Good old-fashioned, not-so-healthy, well-deserved fun.

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The photograph from the plunge at the end of the log flume is a keeper.

Expressions of pure terror.

Expressions of pure terror.

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The beautiful Heather Burdon celebrated her birthday last week and her birthday wish was a trip to Point Lobos. It’s a State Park, near Carmel, about 1hr 40 mins South from where we are. We had never been that far South and were excited to explore.

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At the start of the trail, we saw some sea Lions lying on the rocks down below.

Sea lions on the rocks

Sea lions on the rocks

We walked a little further along the coast and came to an area with interesting rock formations with rock pools that were great for climbing on and exploring.

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Lucy's sandy bottom

Lucy’s sandy bottom

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A crab!

A crab!

We went a little further along the coast, looking for China Cove, a beautiful cove that we had seen images of online before we even moved to California. We found it and it was suitably breathtaking.

China Cove

China Cove

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Sadly, China Cove is inaccessible, as restoration is taking place. It’s also fenced off because seals are on the beach and are birthing!

Seals on the beach

Seals on the beach

Booooooo!

Booooooo!

We walked around China Cove and came out on the other side to more breathtaking views.

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Happily, just around the corner was Gibson Beach – and we were able to go down there and splash in the ocean for a while before heading home feeling more than content.

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Heather’s Mother’s Day wish this year was for “some nice family photos, with no moaning”! After Church, camera in hand, we headed to the San Jose Rose Garden, a place we had yet to visit. It’s a really lovely park with green spaces, a fountain and of course, lots of roses of every colour. We took some bubbles to keep the kids occupied and got some great shots. The kids enjoyed using the camera too and *almost* didn’t moan about having photos taken of them! I’m glad we were able to give this amazing mother what she hoped for.

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The Giant Raccoon

It all started a few weeks ago. We have a large, 4ft bin, known locally as “garbage can”, though it’s not really a can at all. Either way, we woke up one morning and discovered it had been knocked over and the contents were spilled in the back yard. Although puzzled, we didn’t think much of it and the incident was soon forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the day. However, the very next morning, what did we discover to our great surprise and bewilderment? The bin was once again, knocked to the ground.

Perhaps it had been the wind?

The weather has been mild, so that conclusion felt unlikely.

What then?

That was the question that was becoming more and more pronounced in our minds.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Now, Heather and I are members of our ‘Nextdoor’ online community. It’s essentially a community discussion board for people living in our neighbourhood. The message boards contain fascinating discussion topics from recommended plumbers, to reminders that dogs ought not to foul the neighborhood. Items for sale, services offered and requested, security issues etc. For me, the community was at the height of its brilliance last Halloween, when an interactive map of the neighborhood was made available and members were able to indicate on the map whether sweets would be distributed from their house. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Anyway, on the day of the second bin incident, while at work, a message was posted by our neighbor, Jim, on the Nextdoor message board that began to unfold the mystery. I’ve pasted the message below:

————-

Gentlepersons,

Early yesterday morning I heard something splashing around in my back yard fountain: it was the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen. It didn’t scare away either. I have emptied the water out to eliminate that attraction for the wildlife. If people have animals they leave outside overnight, be warned.

Jim

————-

As I read this message, the full gravity of its implications began to unravel in my mind.

Could it be?

Given the evidence, there was no denying it. Our bin-pusher was in fact, the giant raccoon.

Over the coming days, further evidence came to light. Take, for instance, this paw print, captured in pavement chalk and discovered in our back yard. Heather’s Preschool class had been drawing with chalk on the ground and the GR (Giant Raccoon) had seen fit to trample over their artwork.

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Of course, we took evasive action, keeping the rubbish in the larger, more secure wheelie bins and moving the location of the said bins in an attempt to disorient the raccoon.

One day, we set a trap for the raccoon. Joshua and I set up a cardboard box, with a plastic cup on top. On top of the cup was a cherry tomato. “This ought to teach him”, we thought. The next morning, the cherry tomato was gone, but the raccoon was not caught in the box. I felt like he was taunting us.

Things took another turn for the worse when on one particular night, a few days after Joshua’s birthday, we made the mistake of leaving his brand new inflatable ‘wall ball’ outside overnight. Surely this would be a step too far, though?

Does the raccoon care that this ball was a little boy’s special birthday gift? That means nothing to him. He couldn’t care less. Not bothered. Out with the claws. Then off he schnuffles, into the night.

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

I wish I could tell you that there’s some sort of happy ending to this story, that on a second attempt, the box, cup and cherry tomato trap worked, but the truth is, we still live in fear of this giant nocturnal mammal.

I think the next step is to set up a hidden camera using my phone and lure the beast in with some tasty morsels. When he takes the bait, Josh and I will emerge from the shadows, armed with Joshua’s Nerf crossbow and deliver some foam-dart justice.

Other suggestions welcome in the comments below.

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Shortly after Mam and Dad’s visit, Auntie Kate arrived! She was on her way to study in Hawaii having recently completed her mission in St George. We were delighted to have her stop by and spend some time with us.

Kate's welcome message from Eve

Kate’s welcome message from Eve

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Chinatown, SF

Chinatown, SF

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Oakland Temple visitors centre

Oakland Temple visitors centre

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Redwoods selfie

Redwoods selfie

Olive's teddy bear pancake. Kids portion, apparently. Don't tell Jamie Oliver.

Olive’s teddy bear pancake. Kids portion, apparently. Don’t tell Jamie Oliver.

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Boudin Sourdough factory, Pier 39, SF

Boudin Sourdough factory, Pier 39, SF

Kate makes light work of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

Kate makes light work of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

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Heather and Kate catching up

Heather and Kate catching up

Sisters at the Oakland Temple

Sisters at the Oakland Temple

Father & Son Camp

This weekend, Josh and I went to a Father & Son church camp in Portola Redwood State Park. The campsite was in a clearing within a redwood grove with a campfire. We toasted hot dogs and marshmallows and made smores around the campfire in the evening. In the morning, we had hot chocolate and breakfast burritos. Some of the boys disturbed a beehive/wasps nest and paid the price! Fortunately, Josh escaped the bee attack but seemed excited by the happenings and went in search of bees later on. It was great to be just with Josh and have some boy-time together. With 4 sisters, I’m fairly sure he tires of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Barbie and Tinkerbell, so a couple of days of bee-hunting, sleeping bags and campfires went down a treat.

The Campsite, Portola Redwood State Park

The Campsite, Portola Redwood State Park

Campfire

Campfire

Double-marshmallows

Double-marshmallows

Josh roasting a hot dog

Josh roasting a hot dog

We recently had a brilliant visit from my Mam and Dad – it was their first time in California and the first time we’ve seen them in person since we moved here last year. It was so great to see them and to show them a lot of the places we go and things we do over here. The kids were incredibly excited and loved having them here. Olive took a little warming up, but before long she was clinging on to my Mam and calling Dad “Dada”. We had around 9 days together and managed to squeeze a lot in – some of the highlights are below. I’m lucky to have amazing parents who I look up to and admire massively.

We visited one of our favourite spots – Henry Cowell Redwoods and Roaring Camp Railroad. There’s a trail with some giant redwoods, as well as wild west style village where you can pan for gold, watch old films in a cinema, visit a printshop etc. They have a steam train that goes right down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

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Mam in the Redwoods

Mam in the Redwoods

Dad has horns

Dad has horns

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Lady Lucy

Lady Lucy

Olive in jail

Olive in jail

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Olive in the visitor centre

Olive in the visitor centre

After a morning in the Redwoods, we headed to Natural Bridges, one of our favourites beaches in Santa Cruz for a bit of paddling, frisbee and sandcastle-building. The kids made a ‘swimming pool’ by digging a big hole and sending us back and forth to the sea to fill their pool with buckets of water.

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On another day, we visited San Francisco, starting with a walk along the coast from Sutro Baths. Heather and I did this walk with Eve and Josh the first time we visited San Francisco together for my interview with Apple. It’s a lovely walk and halfway through you get a great view of the Golden Gate bridge.

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We then headed into the city for a boat tour of the bay, a walk along pier 39 and some clam chowder. Josh had been telling Mam and Dad about the boat tour in advance, as he’s done it a few times before. He explained how we go around an island with a famous prison on it – the prison is called ‘Alcohol’.

Alcatraz aka 'Alcohol'

Alcatraz aka ‘Alcohol’

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Sea Lions at Pier 39

Sea Lions at Pier 39

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Charlotte busting some moves to the street artist's music

Charlotte busting some moves to the street artist’s music

One day we went to Apple HQ in Cupertino for breakfast at Caffe Macs.

Breakfast at Caffe Macs, Apple

Breakfast at Caffe Macs, Apple

Eating apples at Apple

Eating apples at Apple

Apple HQ, 1 Infinite Loop

Apple HQ, 1 Infinite Loop

The visit was over Easter weekend, so we made Easter baskets for the kids and had a hunt in the garden.

Easter baskets

Easter baskets

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A visit to the San Jose Discovery museum where the kids painted their own faces(!) and did role-playing in fire engines and ambulances.

Riding in a fire engine

Riding in a fire engine

Charlotte on the stretcher

Charlotte on the stretcher

The ambulance crew treat Charlotte

The ambulance crew treat Charlotte

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Eve made this doll at the discovery museum

Eve made this doll at the discovery museum

Another day included a visit to Hidden Villa farm.

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Olive was saying

Olive was saying “duddle! duddle!” (cuddle) to the chickens

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…a visit to Shoreline Park in Mountain View…

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…NASA…

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…a Sunday walk at Rancho San Antonio…

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Eve finds the Geocache

Eve finds the Geocache

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…and ‘Home’ at the Drive-In!

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Thanks for coming Poppy and Grandma – please come back soon!