What to See in Joshua Tree National Park

My kids and I scrambled up the boulders that form Mastodon Peak on a family hike in the Cottonwood Springs area in Joshua Tree National Park.  It was fun but it was steep. “You’re not allowed to fall!” I told my kids from the back of the line we made as we scrambled up the large boulders that made up the mountain.  “If you fall, fall into the mountain.”

The bouldering was enough that it made me feel I accomplished something once I reached the top.  A couple of women were sitting down and eating sandwiches, looking at the view that went on for miles.  A group of hikers were sitting further down the peak speaking French to each other as they took pictures and selfies.

“This is a great place to eat a sandwich” I said to the women who were eating their peanut butter and jelly as we passed them to find our own perch on this rocky mountain.  Both women agreed with me with enthusiasm and went back to appreciating the view. I opened my backpack and give my kids a couple of brownie-filled cookies as our own Mastodon Peak treat.  We sat down nearby the women to enjoy our cookies and take in the panorama of distant snowy mountains, blue hills, and desert.

One woman mentioned to the other that she should put on sunscreen and dug some out of her backpack leaning on a nearby rock.  She squirted some into her palm and then rubbed her legs and arms. I chat more with the two women. They are from Colorado and are only at Joshua Tree National Park for a couple of days.  They didn’t realize how big it was. I agreed, I’ve been to Joshua Tree a bazillion times and I’m still seeing new things. This was the first time I’ve been up here, on Mastodon Peak.

“What would you suggest we see while we’re here?” Asked one as she put her sunblock away in her backpack.

I shared with them my favorites:

  • Key’s View:  It’s super easy to get to and the view is outstanding.  You can see the Salton Sea over a 100 miles away on a clear day.
  • Hidden Valley Loop:  A short hiking loop through a valley that horse rustlers utilized back when people used to rustle horses.  Across the parking area from the Hidden Valley trailhead are picnic tables and if you wander around the large boulders nearby you’ll come across some “caves” formed by one giant wall of rock placed just a few feet from another.  My kids love running through the passages, their laughter and footsteps echoing off the enormous rock walls.
  • The Cholla Cactus Garden:  It is impressive to see hundreds and hundreds of these large golden-spiked cactus with their dark trunks.  I’ve always wondered about the people who came through the Cholla Garden before there were roads. Did they see all the cholla and turn around, not daring to hack through the forest of the large and daunting cactus?
  • The Forty-Nine Palms Oasis:  Like in the movies, the Forty-Nine Palms Oasis rises out of the desert landscape with its palm trees visible in the distance.  It’s a moderate 1.5 mile there and back hike to the palm trees with actual water pooled at their base. Once you get there, it’s easy to find a shady spot and enjoy your lunch as you watch the birds flitter past to the water below and hear the palm trees rustle in the breeze.

 

The two women opened a map of the park and began to plan their next move armed with my information.  “I’m not sure where we are,” said one woman to her friend “The Rockies aren’t here to guide me!”

Needing Silly

I couldn’t find my black flats.  They would go with my skirt and red blouse and I was running late for work.  I went around the house looking in all the usual places where I kick off my shoes.  No, they’re not by my bedroom chair. Not by the couch and they’re not by the front door.  Where are they? I have to be leaving to work right now. Well, when in doubt, look where they belong.  I went back to my bedroom and looked in my closet where my shoes are supposed to be kept when I’m not wearing them.  Not there.

My eyes fell on my pair of skull shoes set on the top shelf of the shoe rack.  They were black, like my missing flats, but unlike my missing flats they had bright colored skulls all over them like the skulls for Dia de los Muertos.  I caught myself smiling at the idea of wearing these bright casual shoes with my professional teacher outfit. I needed to wear these shoes today. I needed silly.

The previous Saturday afternoon, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from my principal sharing news that one of my students in my second period class passed away.  I stared at my phone in disbelief. I gave him a hard time Friday morning in class for not doing his assignment and copying off of a neighboring student. He gave me his slow grin and started working on his assignment like he was supposed to.  Monday morning I had his paper to return to use for his quiz and he wasn’t there. I see his name on my student withdrawal list on my grading program whenever I log on to complete my class attendance.

My second period was boisterous and quick to laugh but now they are quiet and subdued.  I dreaded my second period class Monday morning because I didn’t want to see the empty desk that I knew would be there.  The school offered grief counselors that morning and I spoke to one, seeking advice on how to address my class after a death of one of their own.  I’m running class as usual now, but I know my students are hurting.

I found a pair of no-show socks to wear with the skull shoes and put them on.  I looked at myself in the mirror. Not something I usually wear with a skirt and blouse but I liked that it was silly.  I took myself to the living room to say goodbye to my kids before I left for work.

“What do you think?”  I asked, modeling my outfit before them.

The kids barely glanced at me from the couch and returned to watching their Pokemon cartoons.

“Wow, tough crowd!” I said.  I tried again, striking a different pose, “What do you think?”

My daughter tore her attention from her cartoon and looked me up and down.

“Your shoes don’t match.” She said and gazed back at the television.

“Yeah, they’re a little different” I said.  I went over to my kids and kissed each of them, telling both that I loved them and to have a good day at school.

At work a couple of hours later, in second period, one of my quieter students happened to look down and see my skull shoes.

“I like your shoes Mrs. Adams” he said “They’re cool.”

The Pale Purse

“Be content!” my 10-year old daughter told me.  She peeked over my shoulder to see what I was doing on my iPhone and saw that I was browsing through purses.  I asked her to remind me to be content when she saw me looking at purses online. She took this request to heart and never failed to do what I asked when she caught me.  I closed the window of the browser on my phone and looked at her.

“You’re right,”  I said, “But, they’re so pretty!”

Purses were a special weakness of mine that I allowed myself to indulge in.  I loved the feel of soft leather, the smell, the sound of a good zipper opening, and the organization potential of a new purse.  

I saw a beautiful pale purse when I walked through Marshalls.  There was a glowing aura around it that guided me to it. I took it off the rack it was hanging from and took a closer look.  It was made of buttery soft leather and there were metal decorative studs in front with slip pockets on either side. It had great organization potential.  I unzipped the main zipper. Oh heaven, the zipper was smooth and purposeful. The new-purse smell engulfed me. There was an inner wall zipper and pockets to put a cell phone and a pen slot.  It was a smaller purse but had all sorts of nooks and crannies to put away necessities and it was pretty. So pretty. The glow around the pale purse was getting brighter and my resolve to be content grew weaker.  

“Be content, Mom!”  I told myself.

I tried to remember that I don’t need another purse and that I am content with what I had and I had a lot of purses.  I pulled my purses from the disorganized shelf in my closet and laid them all out on my bed a few days ago. Dark leather and quilted fabric purses made up most of my collection.  I don’t have a pale purse. It would be perfect for the upcoming spring.

No!  I told myself.  I don’t need it.  I’ll walk away and do my errand at Walmart.  If I’m still thinking about the pale purse afterward I’ll go back to Marshalls.  Guilty pleasure crept in when I thought about owning the pale purse.

Forty-five minutes later I was back at Marshalls and followed the siren song to the hand bag section where I found the pale purse still glowing bright on the rack.

Oh, I was weakening.  I knew I didn’t need it but it was so gorgeous.  I should call someone for reinforcements. My husband?  No, he would tell me no. My sister? No, she would tell me yes.  What to do?

I decided to give the pale purse a test drive.  I pulled out my phone from my small black leather handbag to see how it would fit in the pale purse.  I slipped the phone into the phone slot inside the pale purse and zipped it closed. That’s such a nice zipper!  I opened the pale purse again and gave the pen slot a try. I slid my trusty Bic pen into the slot and closed the wonderful zipper.  The zipper would not zip over the pen. The pale purse’s siren song quieted. I shoved the pen down more. The zipper closed over it that time but there was a small bump where the zipper went over the pen.

The aura around the pale purse flickered, faded, and then went out.  I came to my senses when the siren song was silenced. I require a functional pen slot in my purses if they come equipped with one.  It was a deal-breaker.

I returned the pale purse back to the rack, satisfied with myself that I didn’t buy it.

Earrings on the Wall

I can’t leave my house without a pair of earrings in my ears.  Even if I am lazing about the house, with nowhere to go, I laze with a pair of earrings on.  So when my husband nailed my earring holders to the wall in our closet, displaying all my earrings at eye-level, I was very happy.  He’s made it so easy to see which pair I want to wear because they are right next to my clothes and the bright closet light shows the earrings clearly.  It has made getting ready for work in the morning less of a hassle because now I can see all the choices I have for earrings. And I have a lot of choices:  studs, dangly, hoops, gold, sterling silver, leather, and gemstones.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.  Before my husband nailed my earrings on the wall I had some earrings in my jewelry box, and some on my dresser, and some others were in a drawer.  I was wearing the same earrings over and over because I didn’t realize what I had.

For Christmas my sister bought me three pairs of fun leather statement earrings.  They are big, colorful, and lightweight. Earrings like those must be worn and not put into a drawer where they will be forgotten. The trouble was that I had no place to put them.  I had three different places where earrings were stored and all of them were a disorganized wreck. I finally had enough and decided to do something about it.

I took all my earrings from all three locations and laid them out in front of me on the carpet on my bedroom floor.  My favorites were in one pile organized by color, type, and size. Another pile was for all the earrings that I haven’t worn in years.  Some of those earrings dated back to high school days: costume jewelry that I wore for high school dances and studs that were so small that you’d hardly notice they were there.  I wanted to blend in in high school and not stand out.

What to do with all my newly organized earrings?  This is when I had a wonderful idea: if I could have them hanging up on the wall I could see them easily.  I asked my husband if he would be able to mount my earring holders on our closet wall just by the door. Would they be in the way?  Would you mind having my earrings on the wall? No problem, he said, I could do that.

He immediately went to work.  I left him alone to work his magic.  About 15 minutes later he said “Come take a look.”

The next morning getting ready for work was delightful.  Walking into my closet and seeing all my earrings in one place in a well-lit space made picking out earrings down right fun.  I was so happy to have my earrings displayed like that and felt so blessed that I had so many nice earrings that I wrote my husband a thank you letter.  I wrote it early that morning, before I went to work, and hung it with a magnet on the refrigerator door for him to find when he woke up later that morning.

The Snow Day

We experienced a first since we’ve lived in Twentynine Palms.  We had a snow day. With actual snow. I heard rumors that it snowed in Twentynine Palms in 2008 but assumed that it was the stuff of legend.  A myth that was started by those hopeful children who want a day off of school.

I heard the television in the living room while still in bed this morning.  My daughter got up earlier than me and turned on her cartoons. Despite her keeping the volume down it still woke me up before my alarm went off.  It had to be before 5 am. I rolled over and tried to get warmer under the covers. It’s cold this morning. The alarm finally went off, signaling me to start the day.  I had to get ready for work. I began to think about my day, because it never snows in Twentynine Palms.

I shuffled down the hallway and requested no TV before 6 am.  I opened the sliding glass door to feed the dog. As I stepped outside, my jaw dropped in surprise.  Through the dark, I saw large fluffy snow flakes falling from the sky onto the soft white snow-covered ground.  I heard the sound of snowflakes landing on the ground and bushes.

I poked my head back in the house “It’s snowing outside!” I told my daughter.  She paused the cartoon she was watching and came outside. Pure delight and wonder were on her face.  She had never seen falling snow before. She went outside in her robe and pajamas and sock feet.  

“Go inside and get on your slippers, at least” I told her.  I went inside with her and woke up my son Logan who has never seen snow either. He jumped out of bed and went to the window.  

“Wow!” he exclaimed.  He got his slippers on too.

Both kids went outside with the snow.  They couldn’t stop touching it and I couldn’t blame them one bit.  It’s 5:10 am and it’s still dark.

Slippers needed to be upgraded to shoes and coats.  

“Walk on the snow, Chloe, it’ll make a cool sound” I told her.  She looked at me with her mouth open and eyes wide at the thought.  

“Really?” she asked.  She stepped off the patio and listened to the snow crunch as she stepped on it.  She looked over at me and her whole face radiated pure pleasure. Soon my son joined her and together they made footprints in the one-inch layer of fresh snow.  

A miniature snowman was made.  The kids were having a blast and were shouting and playing in the snow.  I tried to shush them, after all, it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning yet.

I heard a voice in the distance.  The neighbors a couple of doors down were outside too, exclaiming over the snow.  Lights were on in the houses around us. The neighbors seemed to be already awake.  Besides, this was snow, the myth has become truth!

“Ok, you two, go ahead and play” I said.  

Snow balls were thrown into the desert and then against the shed.  Then, of course, snow balls were thrown at each other. After establishing the rule of no snowballs to the face, our first snowball fight commenced.  Snow balls were everywhere, as fast as we could scoop enough snow from the ground, we threw them at each other. Logan slipped a snowball into my coat pocket without me realizing it.  I’m glad I caught it before I went inside and put my coat away. Chloe and I made a miniature snowman family out of the snow.

My children soon learned something about snow:  it’s cold. It’s especially cold if you don’t have gloves on. My son had enough of the cold and went inside very upset “I can’t bend my hands!”  He didn’t warm up until after a hot shower and fresh clothes.

All through this time I forgot that the kids had school and I had work.  I checked Facebook for news and I saw school was canceled. An unexpected day off.  What a gift!

All three of us were giddy with happiness.  There’s snow on the ground and there’s no school.  Oh happy day!

Chloe suggested we should have snowman pancakes for breakfast.  She had a great idea and I had the know how.  As I was flipping the first snowman pancake over in the warmth of the kitchen, Chloe asked me if I had ever tasted snow before.

“Oh sure, lots of times” I replied.  “Why don’t you go outside and taste some snow?”

Chloe’s smile lit up her whole face as she turned around and went back outside.  I smiled as I put the snowman pancake onto a plate. Today was going to be a good day.  

Wait, I didn’t warn her about yellow snow.

Buy the Damn Rock

My sister was out visiting from Massachusetts.  She’s able to come down two to three times a year or so and on this occasion it was near my birthday.  We were both sitting at the kitchen table and I was showing her some Vera Bradley merchandise that I was lusting over.  I had been looking at the purses for quite a while and fantasizing over which pieces I would buy and which colors I would get.  I finally narrowed it down to three pieces: a tote bag, hair clips, and wallet (matching of course with the tote). I was showing her on my laptop at my kitchen table.  I had gotten some birthday money and was thinking about purchasing the items. The problem was that I was not used to spending so much money at one time, never mind spending it all on myself.  I simply could not click on the “place order” button on the screen.

My sister couldn’t understand why I was hesitant.  I had the money and I would enjoy them, wouldn’t I?

“But, Jen, it’s so much money.  I can’t spend $150 on myself!” I said.

“Oh, just buy the damn purse!” Jen said.  She reached over me and clicked the place order button on the check out screen.

It was done.  I felt strangely elated.  What had I done? I bought the damn purse, that’s what I did.  When it came I enjoyed it just like I knew I would. It was so pretty and the colors were so bright.

Some time later I was at the florist when I saw beautiful pink roses with purple tips in the storage fridge.  They had to have been the most perfect roses I’ve ever seen but they were $5 a bloom and flowers look best when in threes.  I looked at the carnations that were $1.50 a bloom. I debated whether I should spend $15 verses $4.50 on flowers that would die in about a week anyway.  The florist came around and asked if she could help me. I couldn’t rationalize spending $15 on flowers when I could spend $4.50 and get flowers that were also as nice.  

I heard my sister’s voice say clearly in my head “Just buy the damn flowers!”

“I’ll take three of those pink roses please” I told the florist.  I took them home and put them in a vase where they graced my kitchen table for a whole week with their beauty and elegance.  They continued to bloom in the glass vase and I could smell their perfume whenever I sat at the kitchen table. Money well spent for my pleasure.

My family went to Calico Ghost Town where they used to mine silver in the otherwise barren Southern California desert.  Now it’s a tourist destination where they show how life was like there in the late 1800s during the silver rush. I used to go there frequently as an elementary school student on field trips.   

Calico Ghost Town hasn’t changed in the past 20 years since I’ve been there.  There is still a shop that sells pretty rocks and crystals. I was enthralled with the deep purple amethyst rocks when I was there as a young girl.  I used to have one that I kept on my bookshelf in my room when I was a kid. I don’t know what happened to it since then. But when I saw the amethyst rocks at the shop in Calico Ghost Town, I thought how nice it would be to have one again.  I picked up the prettiest rock and was surprised at how much the shop wanted for one. They started at $15 and went up from there. I saw one that was about $400! The deeper the purple they were the more expensive they were. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a rock!  I moved on to look at other things in the store but I kept coming back to the amethyst display.

The third time I returned to the display, I asked myself if I would enjoy it.  Would I regret not leaving Calico Ghost Town with it? And then, quite clearly, I heard my sister’s voice say “Just buy the damn rock!”

So I spent $25 on a rock.  My amethyst is sitting on the kitchen counter where I can enjoy its deep purple color while I wash the dishes and cook meals.  Money well spent.

Throw-Up Soup

With the end of the holiday season my family is left with lots of leftovers.  The leftovers we have are just as seasonal as the Christmas ham. Ham and Cheese Casserole is my husband’s favorite seasonal leftover.  With all the extra ham from Christmas dinner I make a casserole with a white sauce baked to bubbling with carrots, celery, and potatoes.  It’s a good thing that he loves it so much because the rest of the family only tolerates it. We get a meal out of it and my husband happily eats all the leftovers of his casserole over the next day or two.  

While my husband’s favorite Christmas ham leftovers are tolerated by our family my favorite ham leftovers are down right hated.  I always make split pea soup for lunch two or three days after Christmas with the ham bone. My children see I’m busy cooking in the kitchen and ask “What are you cooking, Mom?”

“Split pea soup.” I reply, knowing what’s coming next.

“Eww!  Throw-Up Soup!” comes the expected response.

My kids call it “Throw-Up Soup” an account of when the one time they tried it, it made them want to throw up.  

My kids also call a Christmas cookie “Reindeer Poop” on account of the fact that the 1-inch ball chocolate cookie looks like the leftovers of a reindeer.  Throw-Up Soup is a holiday tradition but nowhere near as loved as Reindeer Poop. We make at least two batches of Reindeer Poop during the holidays and enjoy the whole process of baking the cookies.  When I make my after-Christmas batch of split pea soup I get harassed and my soup is called names.

My husband looks over my shoulder to see what’s cooking.  He see what it is and says “Oh. Making your puke soup, huh?”  There’s no love lost when it comes to split pea soup in my house.  

I make Throw-Up Soup for me and I look forward to having it every year after Christmas.  Where there’s a ham, there’s a ham bone and split pea soup. One ham bone and a pound of split peas makes a lot of soup.  I enjoy a bowl for lunch that day with saltine crackers and pour out another serving in a plastic container for lunch later that week.  The rest of the batch I put in freezer-safe containers in individual servings. This year I had enough for five servings to stash in the freezer for future enjoyment.  Warm soup and crackers makes a delightful lunch at work. I’ll sit at the table in the staff lounge and enjoy my split pea soup free of judgement.