Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Visiting Da Bears

This past weekend, Mary, Paul, Joy, David, Jarrah and I drove to Big Bear in the Big Blue Bus. We stayed in a cabin, courtesy of a family at Mary and Paul's school, and since Big Bear is only a three-hour drive into the San Bernardino forest, we were able to vacay on the cheap.

David and I spent our last weekend as a child-free couple in Big Bear, 18 months ago. We stayed in a child-free B&B in a huge room with a hot tub, two plushy recliners, a DVD library, and homemade baked goods and cocoa every evening. It was cold outside, and we barely left the room. At night, the only sounds were the crackling of our faux-fireplace and the wind in the pines.

Readers, I know Big Bear, and Big Bear is a friend of mine. This was not the Big Bear I know. Sharing a cabin with two 2-year-olds brings a--what word shall I choose?--stimulating dimension to the Big Bear experience. Yeah, stimulating. That's it. As in, none of us slept very much, and Paul (bless his heart) helmed the Big Blue Bus through hazardous conditions of toddler no-nap screams. In an optimistic mood, we purchased a six-pick of Mike's Hard Lemonade (yummy) at the local Von's to accompany the movie-watching and board-game-playing we had planned for the peaceful hours of toddler snooze. That six-pack is still in the fridge.

My wise friend Amy has offered me some insight on toddler travel since our return, and I find it comfortingly apt. To use the word "vacation" in this context is to misspeak. A more appropriate label is "trip." A trip suggests an adventure, new experiences, interesting encounters. It also suggests banana peels and falling on one's face. We had all of that. So, we took our toddlers on a trip. And considering Jarrah has been asking to "go see da bears" almost constantly since our return, I'd say it was a successful one. I'll share some of the highlights below:

The Alpine Slide

We arrived pretty late on Friday afternoon, and it was even later by the time we'd squeezed a few minutes of nap out of the girls. But I had the trusty Big Bear File (my internet research) which indicated that the Alpine Slide was open until 9:00. After a passable BBQ dinner, we made it to the slide at 8:30. A big yellow moon was on the rise as this wonder came into view. The Alpine Slide is 1/4 mile of snaking fiberglass luge track, accessed by a ski lift chair, and traveled by lightweight bobsled. The rider controls the speed with a big red stick between the legs. Lean forward, and the sled speeds up. Pull back, and it slows to a near-stop on a hair trigger. Quite a sophisticated ride for a piece of plastic. Strangely, children over two are allowed to ride for free on the front of an adult rider's sled, and neither Jarrah nor Joy expressed any apprehension when the subject was broached.

First, we swung precipitously into the cool air as the chairs took off, rising high between silhouettes of tall pines. Each chair can hold two riders, so the girls each rode with one parent. When it was me, I tingled with anxiety, knowing that my hand was the only thing between a fun ride and our bodies smashed on the rocks below. She was oblivious, though, and loved it, calling out to the chair in front of her that she was going to "catch" them.

At the top, we settled ourselves into the sleds, nestling the girls in front. I went by myself the first time, and couldn't stop laughing; it was such a rush. The sled was sleek, light and slippery, and zipped through the luge as if on water, banking slightly around tight turns. When I felt brave, I pressed the stick, and I zipped even faster. The sensation was one of childlike pleasure, with nothing to think about but the wind in my hair and the sound of my own screams. All too soon, we were bumping into the finish line, but the nice guys running the operation let us have another ride before they shut down for the night. I said several times that $4.00 seemed way too cheap for so much fun, and added that the full moon and having the whole place to ourselves at night pushed it into the sublime. We knew we'd be back, and in fact managed to pull off the same arrangement the following evening. By then, Jarrah was yelling "Again, again!" when we were only half-way down.

The Fawnskin Festival

An annual event we happened to be in town for, this festival in the north shore community of Fawnskin is going strong in its sixth year. We thought the girls would enjoy it after their enthusiastic response to the San Diego Fair.

This was a decidely smaller event. We paid a dollar to wear an American flag pin that itched, and entered a dusty parking lot where some vendors were hawking their wares. There were crocheted hats for $15 (you could even have one crocheted while you waited,) two adorable greyhounds, a lady overseeing some cuties from the Wildlife Rescue (including the world's smallest white owl with ginormous eyes, inspiring David to announce, "That is really the cutest little birdie ev-ah.") There was a make-your-own Shave Ice (yum!) and an apple-pie contest (not sure who or what was competing, but David loved the pie.) Later, a bunch of men came through on horses, and then a lady sang an ear-splitting version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by a man reading a poem by a lawyer from Maryland--something about every country being America, which made me cringe a little, standing as I was between an Australian and two gals from China.

Afterwards, we were hungry, and the only option in the whole town that didn't have a "B" for their health inspection rating (eek!) was a divey-looking place called The North Shore Cafe. I was skeptical as soon as I saw the oilcloth table covers and dingy carpet, but everyone was sitting down so I kept my mouth shut. Well, color us surprised, Readers. Everything was scrumptious. Paul actually said it was the best omelette of his life. I did notice the menu said "Chef Owned," which seems like a good thing.

As it happened, we had a surprise return visit to the NS Cafe, since it was the next day (!) when we finally noticed that our strollers were missing. We had left them in Fawnskin and never missed them. Operation Stroller Retrieval gave us an excuse to find out if our yummy meal had been a fluke. Apparently, it hadn't--it was even better the second time. If you find yourself in Fawnskin, be sure to stop by.


The name of a Muzak-inspired cover band, currently in residence at the Boo Bear Den, a family restaurant in downtown Big Bear Lake. After an unsuccessful expedition to see The Simpsons (well, what were we thinking? That the girls would enjoy it because of Maggie?) we walked a couple of blocks to this family institution, home of the All-You-Can-Eat-Salad-Bar-of-the-'70s, featuring julienned beets, cottage cheese, cling peaches, yellow cheese, three-bean salad and iceberg lettuce, and pulled up an outdoor table in the sultry evening. The staff was friendly, the courtyard sparsely peopled, and the girls had the opportunity to run amok while "Fantasy" played "My Girl" and "Celebration." I kicked back with an extremely strong Mai Tai and resolutely ignored the strange-smelling, Sysco-looking food that took an hour to arrive. Why, you ask? Because it was summer, I had a nice little buzz going, and because to Jarrah and Joy, "Fantasy" might as well have been Justin Timberlake for all the exuberant hand-waving and Elaine Benes-kicking the girls enjoyed with their bad selves. As the sun set, "Fantasy's" tweety-voiced lead singer came around to our table and took the names of the J girls, all the better to insert them in a naughty version of "Margaritaville." When you hear your child's name invoked as the cause of some drifter's incipient alcoholism and it makes you clap and go "yay!"--that's entertainment.

The Paddlewheel Tour Boat

I was determined to get on a boat ride during the weekend, because I've been going to Big Bear since childhood and have never actually been on the lake. The first choice was called the Big Bear Queen, but crafty Paul spotted a flyer for the Paddlewheel Tour Boat on the bulletin board at the Boo Bear Den, and alerted us to its charms. I know we made the right decision, because we saw the Queen from our lofty perch on the Paddlewheel, and it appeared puny indeed. We kept putting it off because we just couldn't get places on time, but finally, Sunday afternoon following Operation Stroller Retrieval, all the planets aligned and we found ourselves at Pine Knot Marina a full half-hour before departure. And kids ride free!

The Paddewheel is spankin' new, and we were early enough to snag a pristine table in the center of the upstairs deck, nicely sheltered by a big canopy but open to the breeze. From our table, we had a great view of the shore as well as the control room. Both girls had been crying and carrying on up until the moment we pushed off from shore, but in seconds flat, they were captivated by the churning water. We spent a blissful 90 minutes cruising around Big Bear Lake on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, admiring the homes of the rich and famous on the lakefront. The most interesting was The Rock House, where the owners were challenged by giant boulders on the property that could not be removed by law (I'm not sure why not) so they built the house right around them. Looking in the window, you could see a huge rock in their living room. I glimpsed a guy reading a magazine on the veranda, and I wondered if he knew how many boats went by in an average day that were talking about him.

Princess Sconecan

I won't lie to you; there were some moments during the weekend that got pretty grim. One or more children screaming for prolonged periods and two spotty nights of sleep tend to undermine one's joie de vivre. But there was at least one episode of pure hilarity that kept us going, and it occurred on the trip out, when everyone was still fresh and bubbly. Mary had thoughtfully purchased new "car prizes" for the young ones, and after an hour or so, it seemed like a good time to bring them out. The prizes were miniature princess Barbies, complete with brushes, combs, some sort of boudoir furniture, and their own pet cats. The girls spent at least 3 minutes in total concentration, torturing the dolls with the combs, resulting in a new hybrid: Dredlock Barbie. So far, so good. At one point, Mary turned around and asked, "Are you having fun with your princesses, girls?" There was no response, the tonsorial ministrations having absorbed them completely for the moment. Mary persisted: "Do your princesses have names?" Joy looked up as if rather suddenly enlightened. "Sconecan," she said, and resumed combing. There was a short silence. "Well, I'm glad you're having fun with Princess Sconecan," Mary replied, at which point I nearly blew my own head off laughing for about half an hour. You probably had to be there, but we found ourselves returning to the scene of the Sconecan all weekend.


Anonymous said...

Ah...Princess Sconecan! I will ne'er forget yee!

We had a great time with you three!

My favorite thing was the slide!

I love the post and all of the photos!

Thanks for writing it! I know the girls will love to read it someday!



Anonymous said...

And yet there are no pix of either the cutest birdie ev-ah or Princess Sconecan? Why, dear blogger, why?


Jess & Yea Yea said...

Ah vacationing with the preschool crowd, it can be a challange, but it still sound like you had fun!

Kisses from the Catskills!


Robyn said...

Hi!! I am still laughing at your post. I am so glad you all had a fun time. Is that Sconecan as in scone (the thing you eat with tea) and can (well, like a can)? That's hilarious. Jarrah looks older already. I can't believe it's only been a month since I've seen her. We will be back in October for a few days and are headed to the Halloween Treat at California Adventure on October 18th. Tickets now on sale!! Either way I'll make a point to see you while I'm home. Take care!



Jen said...

Love the photos--and the post!

Miss J

Amy said...

It is so funny you mentioned Fawnskin. Jeff's uncle has a cabin in Fawnskin and we have been meaning to go as soon as we muster up enough bravery and stamina to take the girls. I am a bit more inspired now that I know there is at least one restaurant with good food. Thanks for the tip!!! I would love the name of the place sometime.

selva said...

we enjoyed our school tour only because of this Alpine Peaks restaurant wow really wonderful,we prefer our seniors too to stay there