A Postcard-Image-Worthy Hike

Norway is a country filled with incredible drama in its natural landscape. As you can imagine, this land of numerous fjords, lush green valleys, and enormous glaciers offers unending opportunities for creating awe-inspiring images. One of those is called Preikestolen. Preikestolen_Board10 My husband first brought this place up a few months ago when he was planning our annual sojourn to the motherland. In a 2-3 week family vacation, we have plenty of time to visit family, relatives, and friends, and insert an excursion to parts of Norway we’ve yet to see. One of the images you’ll often see in a Norway postcard is that of Preikestolen or “Pulpit Rock.” Preikestolen_Board01 Preikestolen_Board02 Pulpit Rock is as dramatic as they come. Sheer drop-offs over 600 meters (or about 1800 feet) with no guardrail in sight to secure any curious tourists reminds us that we are no longer in the States. Here, you accept the risks and consequences of your actions. If you happen to fall over the edge, well then, that’s your fault. Nobody to blame; no one to sue. I like that philosophy…but I digress. Preikestolen_Board03 Preikestolen_Board04Preikestolen_Board05 A 2-hour hike to the top and a 2-hour hike to the bottom. Couldn’t be that bad, right? I mean, my hikes to St. Josephs Hill at home should have been good preparation for such a journey, right? Hahaha Well, it was and it wasn’t. Perhaps the idea of trudging uphill for a couple of hours didn’t bother me because of the weekly St. Josephs Hill hikes. But I didn’t expect that most of the way up to Preikestolen would be along paths created with various sizes of uneven rocks. Ugh. I hadn’t counted on the fact that it would take a bit of concentration on my part to pick out my line along these steps. And some of those steps were rather high, at least with respect to the level of flexibility and strength I have with my artificial hips. Preikestolen_Board06 Preikestolen_Board07 Preikestolen_Board13 Preikestolen_Board11 Preikestolen_Board09 Ugh. I’m sooooo glad I was never curious enough to see if anyone provided a description of what this hike would be like (on the Internet) beyond elevation and duration. All I knew was to bring my hiking boots. Had I known the path would be a rocky one, I may not have attempted it at all.

Hiking uphill is far better and easier for me than hiking downhill. After all, hips are what help slow me down and that strength is still building. Then again, hiking uphill does take strength to move from step to step, especially the big ones.

We took frequent rest stops as our girls ran up ahead to check things out and wait for us to catch up. I was a little worried that our girls would get bored, tired, and whine most of the way. Not so. Not at all. They were as curious and bouncy the entire way up and down as I could have hoped. They are in great shape from their hours of sports and their youthful curiosity kept them going until we returned to our car. We often caught up to them standing atop a nearby boulder ready to point the way forward. They were also very good about showing me the smallest steps up the rocky pathway for me. Once we reached the top with the rest of the early crowd, it was truly breathtaking. Did I mention the absence of guardrails? Preikestolen_Board12 Preikestolen_Pic02 I could feel my legs get a little wobbly anytime I got a little close to the edge. The view over the sheer drop is enough to make you a little dizzy and lose your balance. Because of that, we crawled to the edge to take a quick peek. And that was all we needed. The all encompassing vista was easily and safely seen from at least 5 feet from the edge. The views down and around the fjord were nothing less than spectacular. I don’t have enough adjectives at hand to justify the beauty of the site. Let’s just say that you have to see it to experience it.

Likewise, the climb itself offered several postcard-worthy spots. Of course, there were several brave [or stupid] tourists who sat with their legs hanging over the edge. Did you know that only two people have lost their lives falling over the edge? It was not an accident, though. They had created a suicide pact together and Preikestolen was their choice for death by elevation.

The climb down the mountain took just as long as climbing up. It wasn’t an easy descent because you still had to pick your lines along the same rocky paths you took uphill. And for me, it was a little scarier making sure I didn’t get going too quickly, lose concentration, and miss the next step. Preikestolen_Board14 Preikestolen_Pic01 But I’m glad I did it. I knew my legs would be screaming at me the next day (and they did!) but it would be a soreness well earned. One that would remind me, painful though it might be, I did it!

An original post by mommytwingirls for It’s Never Easy…But It’s Always Fun blog.

2012 Summer Vacation Day 1

First day after school let out for the summer and it was a busy one. It wasn’t intended to be that way but somehow…. Oh yes, I have registered my girls for summer camps this summer. The thing is that the first one doesn’t begin until Thursday this week. School let out last Friday. There are 3 days when my girls and I are hangin’ out. Today was Day 1…and I didn’t feel like staying home and cleaning up the weekly mess that usually amasses in the entryway whenever my girls simply drop their school stuff (e.g., backpacks, lunch bags, miscellaneous school worksheets) inside the front door each day.

After my early morning appointment, we headed off to breakfast at Los Gatos Cafe. If you’ve been going there for years, you know that the major reason to stop by there is to indulge in the giant homemade 5″ high cinnamon roll – its luscious gooeyness of syrupy cinnamon oozing between each layer, topped with a heap of cinnamon sugar butter. My girls LOVE it! And so do I…but I had to resist. My friend, Akemi, and her boys joined us for breakfast and she had never heard of this cinnamon roll. Whoops! That’s probably because I can resist ordering it when I don’t have my kids around. Her boys’ eyes widened in envy and of course, my girls shared part of the roll with them…after I reminded them that they *never* finish the roll themselves anyway.

Next up…the 11am showing of Madagascar 3. While I don’t necessarily love this series of movies, this one was entertaining and I had to laugh at several scenes. Normally, I wouldn’t want to be inside on a beautiful summer day but it was in the mid-90’s. Time to find a nice spot of air conditioning.

Leaving the air conditioned theater for the streets inspired another idea – frozen yogurt. This time, we tried Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt in Campbell and wouldn’t you know it? They offered both frozen yogurt *and* ice cream. My girls changed their minds and found a lemon sorbet and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I ordered *small* bowls for each of us not realizing that the amount of ice cream and frozen yogurt would dwarf the height of the bowl. Small, apparently, is relative. The scoops of frozen creaminess amounted to twice the height of the bowl! Not only that, there was a serving of selected toppings in the middle of the ice cream *and* another on the top! This may just beat out Yogurtland as our main stop for frozen yogurt.

My curiosity got the best of me as we made our next stop. Frost Cupcake Factory. Did I mention that one of our favorite TV shows is “Cupcake Wars?” Luckily it was Monday and that’s the *only* day they offer mini cupcakes for sale. Otherwise you have to order them. Thank goodness for the small things, eh?

After a little stroll through downtown Campbell, I decided it was time to head back home for a bit more air conditioning. Yes, I have a delicate constitution when it comes to mid-90’s degree weather and above.

At home, the summer workbooks awaited my girls. Yea, I wish it could be all fun and games in the summertime but the Mommy in me says, “Tsk, tsk.” To prevent any potential homework meltdowns when my girls jump into 3rd grade, I’d better make sure they keep their minds working. Besides, it helps to relieve some of the guilt in letting them get up late in the morning and laze around for a bit. Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind much…today. They finished the 8 pages of math and language arts I assigned them rather quickly and had a chance to play Legos before we headed off to their last horseback riding lesson for a while.

Garrod Farms. Hard to believe I thought this was so far away when we first drove there last summer. I guess that after you drive to and from a place a few times, it seems to get shorter each time. My girls have come to LOVE their Monday afternoons knowing it was time for another horseback riding lesson. They giggle most of the ride there. It was an extra special lesson because Pappa would be able to watch them. They knew that Pappa jumped horses when he was a kid. They couldn’t wait to show off for him.


And that was Day 1 of summer vacation. I think it was a pretty good start to a nice summer break. My girls thought so, too.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Lovin’ Their Summer Camps!

Well, well, well…even though I totally procrastinated on the whole summer camp planning thing, it seems my girls are quite happy with what I chose. Whew! Given vacation schedules and such, there was really only 5 weeks of camps I needed to schedule. My daughters’ only requirement – that another friend was there. Easy-peasy, right? hahaha Let’s just say that I was assured that at least *one* of their friends would be at each camp…sometimes more.

The Great Teddy Bear Adventure started off their summer camp season with fellow Brownie Girl Scouts at Camp Metro. Not only did they get to create and name their new friends, they got to make clothes, feed them and build a house for them. This was exactly the kind of thing my girls love to do.

Next up? A couple of Los Gatos Recreation camps – Destination Imagination and Mission Possible. This is the first summer they’ve offered camps at Union School District locations. And not only do my girls like the themes underlying the crafts and activities, they love the field trips twice each week – a day at Memorial Park, running around the Silver Creek Sportsplex, splashing in the LGHS pool and an afternoon movie (The Smurf Movie). Did I mention these field trips are included in the cost of the camp? And that kids can be dropped off as early as 7:30 a.m. and picked up as late as 6:00 p.m. without additional “extended care” fees? These are certainly the most cost-effective camps around and ideal for families with working parents.

I don’t know why I missed out on these LG camps before. Over the last few summers, I’d stuck with Camp Galileo and Destination Science. Both are fantastic camps and my girls loved them. But admittedly, they are expensive. And I had signed up for them in February when they were offering significant discounts on them along with the extended care. But as I mentioned, I procrastinated…and that has worked out well this summer.

This coming week, they’ll be sampling Steve and Kate’s Camp for a couple of days. I’d heard about these before summer. Apparently, the Los Gatos location is a new one for them. But I worried about the lack of structure in the camps…and the cost. It’s a free-choice camp – kids choose their own activities and their own meals and snacks. Like any other parent, I worry that there would not be enough supervision or that my girls would feel left out or shy and not take advantage of the myriad games and activities. This last thought is not a big concern but still…the cost is up there.

School is peeking around the corner and there are only two more weeks until it starts. This week will also include a few days at vacation bible school at their extended care place, which they like because several of their friends will be there and they always get to do some really cool arts and crafts.

My original plan for the summer with my girls included a week free of camps the last week before school started…but it was not meant to be. We’d been meaning to get them into a basketball class for a while now and hadn’t found one that suited our schedules. We finally did…and that’s where they’ll be in the mornings.

I kinda thought we would mellow out and hang out at home as school approached…but it seems that things sped up. Hmmmmm…I’m certain it was my fault somehow. But oh well. I can’t help myself. I’m still in that mindset of letting my girls try new and different experiences. After all, they’ll only be this young for so long.

Original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Summer Vacation 2011 – Rain…Again

Vacationing in the Caribbean in the off-season has its ups and downs, I have to say. On the up side? Almost everything is less expensive. Plane fares, availability and costs of places to stay, open tables at the best restaurants, no crowds to contend with, empty beaches, minimal traffic and more, I’m sure.

The down side? The weather. Rain, thunder, perhaps lightning. And in this area, hurricanes. If you’ve traveled through Europe during the summer, you get quite used to the occasional shower here and there. But the next hour (or day) will likely be sunny, warm and filled with bright sunshine, the clouds completely forgotten.

And here in St. Martin, we’re living with the down side right now. In fact, we’ve lived with it the last few days…except for yesterday (in fact, a great day for boating as we did…fodder for another post). The nice thing is that it is certainly comfortable, wet yes, but not cold. We still walk around in shorts and t-shirts and look out for puddles everywhere. It’s not really a problem to go swimming in the pool as well – you’re going to get wet anyway.

And just like at home, we got stir crazy hangin’ out in the villa all day. Time to take a drive. Not a lot of people strolling in the streets but there were many cars cruising; probably feeling just as cooped up as we were. Several streets were flooding, slowing all the cars down to a crawl for short stretches along our route.

But hey, it’s all part of the experience of traveling in the off-season to a Caribbean island. At least, we’re not here during the hurricanes.

We kinda thought today might be a good day to see the fort at the top of this hill but thoughts of wet gravel and muddy paths deterred us from such a thing. Another day….

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Summer Vacation 2011 – L’Auberge – C’est Magnifique

Did you know that St. Martin earned the “gastronomic capital of the Caribbean” a few years ago after a competition among island chefs a few years ago? Well, that’s what I read a few years ago and that’s what I remember and that’s why we keep coming back (well, a major reason).

One restaurant that quickly became a favorite over the past few times we’ve visited St. Martin, is L’Auberge in the heart of Grand Case. There is one main drag in this town that boasts several establishments with fine French or French-influenced cuisine. And since we’re here during the off-season, we can easily stroll into any of them and find a table for four ready to go. During the high season, people often make reservations at their favorite restaurants before they arrive on the island.

I started with a plate of l’ escargot – garden snails cooked to perfection in a well-seasoned buttery sauce. Our girls were less than impressed, bordering on the disgusted. hahaha They said they would never try it and I couldn’t make them. Honestly though, I didn’t encourage them too much. It just meant more escargot for me. My entree was a Sauteed Chilean Sea Bass filet served on a coconut sauce and mashed sweet potatoes. The sea bass was so tender, it melted in my mouth. And the dessert d’resistance – a trio of hot, baked melted chocolate fondant, dark chocolate mouse and iced white chocolate drizzled with hibiscus coulis called “No Way Around It.” Truls said he was too full for dessert but I knew he could rally, even after he devoured his entree special of the evening, a delicious and rather large beef tenderloin.

Once again, we didn’t want the girls to eat regular kids fare of chicken nuggets and the like. The kids menu there included a choice of lightly seasoned, moist chicken breast or salmon with pasta or rice. Dessert was included as well – a scoop of creamy chocolate or vanilla or strawberry ice cream.

(By the way, we didn’t think to take photos of our dishes until after we ate them but if you click on the links above, you’ll see photos of some of them on their main web site.}

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Summer Vacation 2011 – Fresh Crepes, Croissants and Souvenir Shopping

La Croissanterie – a small outdoor patio on the Marina Port Royale in Marigot and a favorite morning stop while here in St. Martin. Fresh croissants and crepes – yummmmmmy! It’s only open for breakfast and lunch everyday – we missed it the first morning of our vacation since we were moving rather slowly after a very long day of travel. But we made it and I savored each bite of my fresh croissants while the rest of the family devoured their crepes. Looking forward to our next visit…probably tomorrow.   😉

There is an open air market just a few hundred yards away selling all kinds of things – a fabulous stop for souvenir shopping. Though the market is open everyday, it is much larger on Wednesdays and Saturdays…guess what day it was?An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Summer Vacation 2011 – A Slight Deviation in Summer Plans

We were all ready to lay a bit low this summer. I mean, we did a nice trip to Belize and the Mayan Ruins in Tikal, Guatemala, for Spring break in April. And last summer was spent in its entirety in Norway. Time to enjoy our home and summer season locally…or so I thought.

This summer would be a great opportunity to show our girls parts of California they hadn’t yet seen. We’d call it the greater California roadtrip. The highlights would include stops at Disneyland and Legoland (they are only 7 years old, after all), a tour and mini photo safari of Bodie (a ghost town), and among other stops, renting a houseboat on Lake Shasta for a few days. Sound fun? We thought so…until we realized how much it would cost to rent a houseboat on Lake Shasta for a few days (and a boat or something to enjoy the lake).

As my husband looked at houseboat after houseboat, it occurred to him that renting a villa on the island of St. Martin wasn’t that much of a difference. This inspired him to take a harder look at the overall costs of what we were planning for our California roadtrip and a trip to St. Martin. We’d been to this island before and had chatted about bringing our girls along at some point. It seemed to be a family-friendly island.  The difference was really the airfare…and if we could spring for that, everything else washed out. Hmmmmmmmm….

This led to Truls’ final line of thought. Driving around California from 2 to as many as 6 hours, with its almost-daily stops packing and repacking bags, just didn’t seem like much of a vacation, particularly since he would be doing most of the driving. Relaxing in a villa on an island, enjoying fine French cuisine, discovering deserted beaches here and there, playing in the swimming pool – now that seemed like a real break.

Five days before we were supposed to leave for the first part of our trip, a wedding in San Diego, Truls thought he’d take a quick look at available villas in St. Martin and what airfares might cost. All things being equal (except for airfare), what would we rather do? And that, as you can imagine, was not a difficult question to answer.

So, here we are. Two days into our trip and it has been as relaxing and beautiful as we anticipated. St. Martin is that way. We’ve been here three times already – as our Mommy & Pappa getaway while our kids vacationed with the grandparents. This time, we’re here as a family and it’s every bit as fun as before…in a family sort of way.

Oh and don’t get me wrong…we’d still love to rent a houseboat on a lake someday. We just think it would be much funner (and less expensive) if we did it with family friends. In this case, the more the merrier, I always say.

The view from our villa over the ocean…

Villa Magnolia in Terres Bases, St. Martin (French side)

Driving around through Sandy Ground…watching the bridge go up….

A little grocery shopping to stock the villa’s kitchen…love this market with everything in French….

Dinner at Le Chanticleer in Marina Port Royale…didn’t let the girls order chicken nuggets but the hostess helped put a nice meal together of boeff & green veggies for Storyteller and Songwriter was perfectly happy with tagliatelle and a white cheese sauce. Eating a kids meal of chicken nuggets just didn’t seem right in this fine dining restaurant….

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Summer Vacation – Langedrag Nature Park

Summer vacation is winding down and soon will be a fond memory. But I didn’t want to miss sharing one of my all-time favorite parks – Langedrag Mountain Farm and Nature Park. It’s located in Nesbyen, Norway. It is a sanctuary for animals and birds and a fabulous getaway for locals and tourists alike. There are over 22 different types of wild and domestic animals including lynx, reindeer, wolves, moose, fjord ponies and more. The location is phenomenal with sweeping vistas of mountain ranges and dramatic fjords in the distance. The architecture is rustic and traditional. The park is a harmonious combination of nature and modern conveniences. It’s a park I look forward to visiting when we travel to the family cabin in Hallingdal.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.

Summer Vacation – Karius og Baktus Children’s Theater

Staying in Oslo all summer meant that we would be able to see some special events we have missed out on in past years because our timing just wasn’t right. A few years ago, a company of actors started acting out well-known children’s stories in one of my all-time favorite parks – Vigeland’s Park (aka Frogner Park). Our girls are well-versed in popular Norwegian children’s tales, songs and folklore. Karius and Baktus is a favorite book, written and illustrated by Thorbjørn Egner, especially among parents, because it encourages children to brush their teeth and keep them clean. Karius and Baktus (a play on the words, caries and bacteria) are two brothers who live in a little boy’s mouth who cause all sorts of trouble. They absolutely love it when the little boy eats loff (white bread) and syrup, without taking care of his teeth properly afterward. However, one day, the little boy sees a dentist who instructs the little boy to brush his teeth – not a good thing for poor Karius and Baktus who have worked hard to hammer out holes in the boy’s teeth and make themselves a nice, cozy home. During a subsequent dental appointment to fix the cavities wrought by Karius and Baktus, the brothers face the end of their stay as a drill ruins all their work and washes away the home they had so happily built. It’s an amusing story that stays with children for years. Our girls have often asked about Karius and Baktus during their nightly routine, wondering if they are in their mouths. We, of course, encourage them to brush, rinse and floss to make sure Karius and Baktus don’t hang around.

I was happy that the theater did not mind if anyone took pictures during the show – as long as no flash was used and no video (of course). It was time to push my Canon 5DMkII for this low-lit scene. The only light source was the theater lights strung above, hanging from the top of the big tent. I alternately shot these images at ISO 1600 – ISO 2000 with a 24-70mm zoom lens (fully zoomed in at 70mm) at f/2.8 to f/3.2 and shutter speed set from 1/60 to 1/80 seconds. I was pretty high up in the stands, so I knew I’d be cropping these photos in much tighter later. Though I worried about the amount of noise I might get from such a high ISO, I was rather happy with the results.

The children’s theater in Vigeland’s Park takes place under a big tent – and a good thing because you just never know when it will rain. All the kids were invited to sit on the ground right next to the stage, like my daughter, Storyteller (here), and the cousins.As in the DVD we have at home, there is a narrator that tells the story from scene to scene. Here, Karius (dark hair) and Bactus (red hair) check out their new space and immediately start planning and building a new home in the little boy’s teeth.Karius and Bactus are ecstatic with their new home. They sing, laugh and dance and encourage the little boy to eat more bread and syrup!Unfortunately, just when Karius and Baktus start decorating their new home, the little boy feels the pain. A trip to the dentist reveals that the little boy has not been brushing his teeth regularly. So a thorough cleaning is in order and Karius and Baktus meet the Teeth Cleaner. A fight ensues but in the end, Karius and Baktus are forced to run and hide.When they come out of hiding, they find that all their work has been washed away. The narrator tells the audience how the little boy has received strict instructions on keeping his teeth clean. Another trip to the dentist will rid the little boy of Karius and Baktus completely. But Karius and Baktus give it one more try – and scream for loff and syrup, hoping the little boy hears them.

But their optimism turns to despair and finally, to fear as they hear a rather loud roar – a drill! As they try to evade the drill, the Teeth Cleaner suddenly appears again and washes them away, out of the little boy’s mouth.

And the actors take a bow. What a treat to see this play. Certainly a highlight in our summer abroad in Norway.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.

Summer Vacation – Farmor’s Garden

Whenever our parents visit, they always leave our gardens filled with flowers so vibrant, you can’t help but feel a little light-hearted at the sight. Here are a few images from my parents-in-law’s garden. Don’t they bring a smile to your face? Enjoy.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.