Friday, February 27, 2015

First-time Ski Trip | Big Bear Mountain

This past weekend we went to one of our favorite destinations no matter what the time of year - Big Bear Lake - and although we've done some minor snow play (tubing and sledding), we've never taken advantage of what this charming little city has to offer in winter: big time skiing fun.

You have two main options for skiing or snowboarding in Big Bear: Snow Summit or Bear Mountain, both owned by the same company and both of which make their own snow if needed... which is nice here in SoCal when the weather is in the 60's but you want to ski during Ski Week (typical February break from school for one week, which precedes Spring Break by about 6 weeks). This is the fun scene at Bear Mountain:

If this is your first time skiing, sign up for ski lessons - and this goes doubly-so if you have kids. While your kids are in lessons, you can focus on learning yourself. The kids will likely listen better to an impartial person than to you, and their potential competitive nature will have them trying to best the other kids around them in class. Meaning: they will try very hard to "get" skiing!

This is us dropping the kids off for their lessons:

I'm not saying my middle child had a meltdown toward the end of her lesson, but let's just say that this smile wasn't there for the full duration of the morning:

That said, since we were on-site, the problem was solved immediately and my eldest and youngest proclaimed skiing their "new favorite sport" while the middle maintained that she really did love skiing still and wanted to go again ~

 This is our eldest daughter showing us her new ski moves:

She said she LOVED skiing and although she doesn't generally love sports, she proclaimed skiing to be her "thing."

While she was learning, we were learning from this competent teacher named Walter:

He had this sea-faring ocean-lover feeling like a ski bunny in no time!

We now finally "get" why people love skiing so much - I mean we absolutely fell in love with it.

After skiing you can even cozy up to a nice drink, which you've surely earned!

So where does one stay when up in Big Bear? You can stay at any number of cute lodges or a place through AirBnB, but our favorite thing to do is rent a cabin through Big Bear Cool Cabins. We've done it a bunch of times and the management of the cabins is well-run, with reviews being pretty accurate on each cabin. 

Our favorite area to stay in Big Bear is Moonridge because it's so close to Bear Mountain and our other favorite place, Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge. This little zoo is a rescue zoo, and each of its inhabitants is an indigenous animal rescued from the Big Bear area and rehabilitated with an eye toward eventual release back into the wild.

Of course sometimes, release back into the wild is not an option for an animal, and it may live out its days well-cared-for at the zoo - as is the case with this large and lovely mountain lion named Kaskade:

Where else can you get so close to a beautiful American Kestrel?

Here he is, feeding on a mouse treat:

The kids got a tutorial on the many different types of food the animals eat, depending on whether they are herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores:

And a very up-close interaction with a hedgehog:

 Afterward we went to Boulder Bay...

 And watched the sunset.

 Before hitting the "town" (Main Street) for some curious finds, like this Magic Shop:

Vintage Ms. PacMan:

And... ???

If you're exploring Southern California and have a long weekend to meander off the beaten path, I highly recommend Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. It is a blast!

 Thanks for looking :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Night Swimming | Sea Lions take over La Jolla Cove

A fellow diver recently posted video from a night dive during which the sea lions were using his dive light to hunt by, and upon seeing it, I became obsessed. Since we had already booked a babysitter for Valentine's night, we thought: what better time to try our hand at nighttime free diving?

I had gone nighttime free-diving twice before in Mission Bay under the guise of hunting lobster (unsuccessfully), but doing so on a moonless night in the Cove during a decent surge event was something altogether different. I wouldn't advise it. We probably should've called the dive when we showed up and conditions looked rough, but so the story goes... when you have the dive bug, it's hard to get rid of it any other way than by diving.

See our video, here:

This is not to say that it wasn't a spectacular event, especially for me with my love of sea lions. I had long suspected that they took over the Cove at night when all the humans went away, but I am always miles away in Poway when night really falls so I could never be sure.

Upon nearing the bottom of the stairs descending to the Cove, we found this giant matriarch whom I now refer to as The Boss. She was splayed across the entire bottom stair platform like so:

We asked her so nicely if we could pass.

It would seem that she viewed us as two other sea lions looking to challenge her throne!

Now people are permitted to use this stairwell, but this is a protected Marine Reserve, so the animals may not be touched. Not that you would want to, but I always do. And the grumpier she was, the more I thought she needed petting! But no, we just wore her down with persistent, polite requests.

This is her relenting, but not without telling us that she was really comfortable where she was and didn't really want to move:

The water was ROUGH. The worst part was not having any benefit of moonlight so I couldn't see the random overhead barrels rolling through. One clipped me before I could see it and I decided that coupled with the terrible visibility (and the fact that all the fun was happening on shore), we should make a swim for it and try to perfectly time our beach exit.

Appreciating shore:

And there was a lot of fun on shore. The sea lions were lolling in the surf en masse, and because we were the only two humans (and also in wetsuits and keeping a low profile - this is key!), they didn't leave us.

I stayed down on my knees and kept creeping closer and closer to the large group that had assembled to stare at the bright spotlights that some people up above were shining down on them. It was almost as if they thought a tiny spot of sun had peeped out of the night sky for them to bask in.

When the person above moved the light erratically, the sea lions would sometimes get riled up and give chase into the water. Then come out again. Quite simply, they appeared to be freaking each other out for fun.

Finally we decided to wrap up our beach experience and shower for a nice dinner. You won't be surprised to learn that The Boss was right back on her throne, and was perhaps even MORE reluctant to let us pass the second time around than when we first showed up.

A small crowd of tourists had gathered to watch more closely on the stairs, and coupled with the various sea lion challengers, The Boss was entrenched.

I'd be lying if I told you that these photos of her telling the old man to "get lost" in sea lion-ese didn't make me cry tears of laughter!

He even tried to go around the other way... I could have told him that wouldn't work either!

She got up in her own time. The Boss continues to rule the La Jolla Cove.

Thanks for looking!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Flashback Friday | Hot Air Ballooning

One thing that Del Mar in San Diego County is known for is its hot air ballooning. The weather is stable, the temperature's perfect, and the views are spectacular.

I have been fascinated by hot air balloons ever since I was a child and saw The Wizard of Oz. 

This print available for purchase here.

photo credit: Disney

But I am most inspired by the greatest aviator and adventurer of modern times (in my opinion): the late Steve Fossett.

photo credit: Reuters news source

Hot air balloons have inspired many for generations. Some grand hotels, like Le Saint James in Paris, France, use them in their decor to take you higher, so to speak.

So when the old man surprised me for our ninth wedding anniversary a few years back with a hot air balloon ride - although I'm generally afraid of heights - I was sure that this experience would be incredible.

I enjoyed checking out all the baskets. They are sturdy works of art in their own right. 

The balloons are just these enormous swaths of brightly-colored silk, blown open with giant fans and the heat from flames, rising. 

First the fans to open up the silk:

Then the flames, to lift it up. You know, heat rises and all of that:

The next thing you know, we were up in the air!

While it made my palms sweat with nervousness, it was an incredible view.

You could see the tiny balloons in the distance that were just as big as yours, but took off just before or just after yours did.

There was a close call when a gust of wind almost blew us into the hillside. I won't lie and say I didn't do a duck-and-cover, bracing for impact! Everyone else in the basket laughed.

Look out below!

Landing can be rather harrowing, too.

Still, try it - the adrenaline rush is an aphrodesiac!

Happy Valentine's Day Eve and thanks for looking. :)