Leo Loves Music Apps: PianoBall

I took August mostly off from things iPads & Apps (due to pure mushroom cloud overwhelm), and am easing back in with a single solitary app review (and by giving three local iPad workshops in the next two months, heh).

Leo has been grooving on several different apps lately, but the most pleasant surprise came from PianoBall ($1.99), which we picked up at a discount thanks to its inclusion on the most recent Moms With Apps App Friday. PianoBall is the kind of app I like to get for Leo, since he loves almost nothing better than musical free play with structural underpinnings, yet with a novel interface. Which is what PianoBall is all about!

See those four balls at the top of the keyboard below? You can spin all four of them in any direction, to change the keyboard's features. Starting from the left:
  • The first ball changes the keyboard to the ball's front color, and says that color out loud (oooh, learning!).
  • The second lets you toggle the keyboard between plinking away on a standard keyboard, and tapping out a preset tune using any key, somewhat like Leos' beloved Tappy Tunes.
  • The third turns the keys rainbow-colored, and lets you shift the spectrum around.
  • The fourth changes the keyboard's instrument sound: keyboard, drums, saxophone, xylophone (pictured).

The video below is Leo checking out PianoBall for the first time. Wackiness! And glee! He's been particularly unsettled lately, having a hard time focusing and sitting still -- so the minimal demands but spectacular results of PianoBall let him have exactly the kind of stress-free fun right he really needs right now.

Thank you, Internet, MomsWithApps, and App Developers in general. You keep our boy so happy.


BlogHer 11: The Colossal Version

Echoes of BlogHer '11 are still pinging around the Blogosphere three weeks later, as folks process the conversations and ensuing momentum -- so this tardy wrap-up is still somewhat timely. You can read a more coherent and streamlined version our our goings-on from my travel companion and roommate Jennyalice. Or, check out our other roommate SJ's pre-conference volley. (If this post seems disjointed, heh, imagine what it was like to actually be at the conference, actually experiencing everything below -- and I am not including half of what we did!)

We knew BlogHer11 was going to be a three-day learning and and socializing marathon from the get-go, so we started off easy on day one: I dragged Jen and my mom and girls (and my mom's dog) on the road at 5 AM, inveigled them into eating at my favorite childhood Mexican restaurant 400 miles south in gloriously dingy Anaheim for lunch, then dragged Jen to meet with the too-cool crew of Oceanhouse Media in their stunning new San Diego offices. (I love Oceanhouse -- they really take concerns of parents of kids with special needs seriously, which is just good business in general.) And then we dropped off my mom and the girls and dog at my mom's place, got gussied up, and hit the BlogHer conference for speaker training and the first round of parties!

Apparently, while we were having Mai Tais down at the bar with our beloved Laura Shumaker that first night, there was some sort of flash mobbery, which is honestly my one of worst social nightmares (actually, my worst social nightmare was the hot sweaty crowded Vans Warped tour Seymour took Iz to the next week, best dad ever). I am a perennially conflicted conference attendee due to perennial social awkwardness, so missing the flashing and the mobbing was OK with me.

The rest of the conference was a syncopated blur. There were good dinners. With great people. Like Jen Lee Reeves and Robert Rummel-Hudson -- whose book Schuyler's Monster you should not just buy but read -- and Liz Ditz (including Laura and SJ, why are they not in this picture?).

We occasionally visited my very patient mom, and my girls -- whom SJ advised to consider granola bars "factory floor sweepings." (Fair enough.) SJ will also apparently be starting a band with Mali named Maelstrom Plum or something like that. It was fantastic getting to have breakfast with her and Jennyalice every damn morning, then there was the frosting of getting to bask in their reflected glow at the conference, because how damn phenomenal are they both? We need a wormhole between SF and Seattle.

Back at the conference, the number of choices for any given hour overwhelmed. And we got to spend some quality time with other women we adore, including Tarrant and Jenijen (and why is Denise not in this picture?). This is just after Jenijen read us a beautiful piece of her writing. (She is a gorgeous writer.)

We did periodically swing through the whole Expo center where brands and companies promoted some stuff and gave away other stuff for free but not as much cool stuff as last year, IMHO (no PlayDoh perfume? *sob*). Though the freebies were often appreciated, for instance in the case of Pfizer, which was handing out Advil samples to the semi-ambulatory hangover crowd. And I was grateful for the ladybusiness stall handing out ladybusiness gear when my own ladybusiness suddenly decided to go for a fortnight cycle instead of its customary lunar. Serendipity!

I was also a speaker, in the Special Needs (mostly) parenting minicon, along with moderator/organizer Julia Roberts, Robert R-H, and Aurelia Cotta. Here's the outline I'd planned, which was not exactly what I said, but hey: 
  • Selfish: I can't do this with just my own brain!
  • What I've learned from BlogHer: Respectful disagreement is critical
  • Thinking Person's Guide to Autism
    • How TPGA founded: niche not being covered.
    • We're somewhat veteran parents now, what would we have wanted when kids were first diagnosed? Transplant my current brain into my 2003 body!
    •  Cross-section of the community: Parents, professionals, adults with autism
    •  Not negativity -- we don't have time for that shit. Not echo chambers -- no one learns.
    •  Smashing stereotypes: Parents are NOT martyrs, children are NOT precious angels, adults with autism dislike Rainman stereotype (plus Kim Peek did not have autism) and are as diff from each other as any other population.
    •  Prize learning and discussion over defensiveness
    • Prizing respect for our children and their adult peers (and avoid treating Autistics as tokens). What would your kid think of what you'd written? Without special treatment -- my son can be as rotten as his sisters.
    • Sometimes parenting our kids means a steep learning curve, especially for parents from outside the community,
    • Have built cherished friendships, learned to make hard decisions, benefited from phenomenal learning.
I then poked my head into Denise's Patriarchy panel. Shannon LC Cate was there! It was the first time we'd met in person, though we'd been corresponding since 2003 -- the era of Emperor Joshua Norton and Plain Layne. What a delight.

My favorite panel, though, was Coming Out as Undocumented: The Children of Immigration, the Definition of American, which included Jose Antonio Vargas of Define American. The takeaway for me: everyone can make a difference, but it's hard, because as panelist Erica Holloway described, the process for undocumented residents to become legal residents is broken:
"What's wrong with [the] government is it sets up people like Jose to fail. Living as an illegal resident is easier than becoming a citizen."
Jose himself, on the complications of and lack of options for the undocumented [excerpted from the liveblog, which is a mostly but not entirely faithful record]:
"In the State of Alabama, [it's] even worse than Arizona, [being undocumented is] actually a crime. You can actually get fined or arrested for driving somebody who is undocumented or for living in the same house. You could have a family in which the wife is an American citizen born here, and has a kid born here as a naturalized U.S. Citizen thanks to the 14th Amendment. It's a mixed status family. Which in many ways tells you how mature and how long this problem has been. In many ways, my story is instructive because it represents how bad the problem really is. If there was a way for me to get in some sort of line, believe me I will be there with popcorn."
Jose's former high school principal Pat Hyland spoke adamantly about the need for those who, like her, find themselves in a position of privilege to own up to that privilege, and use it for good:
"I don't know if Jose wanted the conversation to turn this way, but the first time he came out to me was as being gay, which was such a stressful thing but he held the other secret [being undocumented] even longer. And if you think of the magnitude of those things, the fact he thought it was okay to tell this one story, but not okay to telling the other, just think about the gravity of that situation. Like so many educators, there's a kid in front of you and what are you going do? It's a kid that needs something and it doesn't matter what color they are, or what the situation is, you are there to care and you are there to help them be the best they can be."
Afterward, there was culinary frolicking as we made Risotto with Marco Pierre White at the Knorr booth down in the Expo -- entirely SJ's idea. Sr. Procopster, who was supervising our antics via Twitter, didn't believe our good fortune at first. When we assured him that, yes indeed, we were going to be cooking with that Marco Pierre White, he turned peevish. Though he's since resumed talking with me.
At first I was worried about taking orders from a legendary firebrand, but MPW was entirely gracious, pleasant, and professional. FYI. And oh my goodness was that Risotto delicious.

The entire time, though, I was wondering what the hell MPW was doing promoting Knorr stock at a women's blogging conference -- so I asked my chef BIL James his opinion when we visited him on our way home. After James finished giving me O RLY face, he launched into a detailed MPW bio, the conclusion of which was MPW does whatever the hell he wants, because he can.

And then we went to about five more parties with gyrating handsome dancers and sparkling unicorns and cheeseburgers. Where I finally to got to have a cherished conversation with parenting community powerhouse Ellen of Love That Max. (Yay!) And then our fiery burning BlogHer11 arc flamed out, we crashed, and I for one am still recovering.

How do we do this every year? How could we not?


Mali the More-Than-an-Imp

Our girl is so much fun -- and so much work. Consider this photo: This is her at last week's soccer camp. This is her reaction to winning "Wackiest Player" during the final day's award ceremony, for her Pirate Kitty Soccer Princess getup. When she got up to receive the award in front of all the parents and all the campers (and a very, very, very patient Leo and Iz, both of whom made it through the entire 30 minute ceremony with minimal complaints), her reaction was not the "thank you" that has been modeled and prompted and used for most of her 6.5 years, but a swanningly dramatic and rather entitled "FINALLY!" (The earth declined to swallow me up, much as I begged it to.)

She has spent most of her first week of school being a spy, laying out a stealth-friendly (all black) wardrobe, plus notebook and pen on official Spy Days (MWF). This idea she came up with on her own, though I have since downloaded Harriet the Spy, and we are listening to it in the car -- which I am now thinking might not have been a great idea as Mali is a little too intrigued by the idea of a spy route and listening at doors. However her school spy routine is on hiatus for now, as her first attempt at enlisting a confederate did not go well -- said confederate went rogue and promptly revealed Mali's spy plans to all the potential victims (the principled little weasel!). Plus Mali lost her notebook (which, thankfully, did not have her name on it -- she was crafty enough not to make that mistake).

Her "high-spiritedness" has already come to the attention of her teacher -- by the time I introduced myself to Maestra Atmósfera today,  she let me know -- very pleasantly -- that she had already consulted with Mali's previous teachers about best practices for handling our girl. And that Mali had already spent time at the "Thinking Desk." Sigh.

But not all is amiss at school. As we walked across across the campus and back to our car, children and adults kept calling out to her, saying goodbye or wanting to make plans. She turned to me and said with satisfaction, "Everyone here LOVES me!" I told her that must feel great, but that it's important to deserve and and reciprocate that love. We are definitely reading A Little Princess next.

And her very first piano lesson with the kindly Ukrainian piano teacher who has always doted on her went well. Mali's hands are small but strong, and she has an innate sense of rhythm. (Iz, whose spot Mali took over, has graduated to the more serious Russian instructor, as did her life-long friend Merlin). I was worried about Mali being defiant or grumpy, but perhaps her love of music (and love for the instructor) will prevail.

I don't know what we'd do with dull children, but sometimes I feel like we're living the parenting version of that never-actually-authenticated-as-Chinese proverb: "May you live in interesting times."


Leo the Imp

Yeah, that BlogHer '11 post is coming. I've been sick with a swallowed-broken-glass sore throat and undulating fever, plus busy writing posts for BlogHer on the increased autism rates for infant siblings (Mali was a participant in the cited study, and if you forgot what a cute baby she was this post is worth it for the picture alone), on the guilt of vacationing in the San Juans without Leo even though our boy was having the time of his life at camp, plus transcribing  Ari Ne'eman's thought-provoking keynote from Syracuse's Neurodiversity symposium, for TPGA.

Also my dear brother called and asked whether I couldn't please tone this site's profanity down, as Leo's cousin Patrick enjoys reading about his cousins but his dad does not enjoy explaining why it is okay for Auntie S to curse like a longshoreman but not his son. Apologies, brother, It'll have to wait until tomorrow. Because I want to talk about some excellent things Leo did, and expletives are involved:
  • Leo loves donuts as much as his mother does, possibly more. And sometimes he perseverates on not being allowed to acquire them. Which is understandable. And sometimes I am an imperfect mother and I lose patience. Which is why, instead of telling himself repeatedly, "We're not going to get a donut today," he recently spent a day reassuring himself, "We're not going to get a fucking donut today." #badmom
  • His newest stim is crumpling paper with his hands or feet; he loves the way it feels and sounds. We have an excess of paper in this house, so he is all set. We have to watch out, though; last week while we were running non-donut errands, I asked him to show me what he was playing with -- and it turned out to be the check I'd left on the counter for Tricia, the woman who cleans our house. Whoops.
  • When we all went to Iz's school to check the eighth (8th!) grade class lists, we ran into a friend of Iz's that we don't see all that often. But Leelo went right up to her, pushed her shoulder, and said, "No pushing Nelly!" (Motivation? I suspect due to her being a cute girl.) Nelly laughed it off because she knows Leo, but I was extremely pleased after the apologies were handed out -- Leo recognized her! He has a really hard time distinguishing between acquaintances' faces! Go Leo!
  • Leo got dragged to Mali's school reg day for second (2nd!) grade because the sitter I'd scheduled was sick. Our boy was a good sport at first, but soon became vocally displeased. (I really should have asked to cut the long line, but I am a pussy who deals badly with confrontation.) We stuck it out, and he did really well, and I thanked him for being so patient. When we finally got to the front of the line, the woman who was checking our forms looked at Leo and looked at me, and said with a smile, "He's doing great!" No "Oh, poor guy," not even a "this must be so hard for him" (which would be true but I'm not a fan of pity). Nope. Just a friendly acknowledgment that he was there, and that he was trying. It was perfect.
Leo starts fifth (5th!) grade today, his sisters started school two days ago. He's had a summer good run, what with surfing and camping and hiking and ziplining and swimming in the pool and hanging out at the beach. But I think he'll also be happy to get back to his wonderful school routine, at his wonderful wonderful school.


Parents and Self-Advocates: Be All(ies) That You Can Be

When folks I like and whose brains I respect go after each other online, it's like coming home to find my favorite roommate smacking around the person I'm dating. So you can imagine how dismayed I was to to see Ari Ne'eman and Robert Rummel-Hudson at public loggerheads. Especially Robert and Ari. Why?

Two weeks ago, I was at the BlogHer conference in San Diego, speaking on a special needs miniconference panel alongside Robert. His talk was clear-eyed and inspiring -- he pushed everyone in the room to acknowledge that disability rights are civil rights:
I believe the fight for disability rights, particularly in the hearts and souls of our typical fellow citizens, will constitute the next great civil rights movement in this country. And I believe that, with all my heart.
While I was ruminating on Robert's call to action, neurodiversity journalist and author Steve Silberman called to let me know that Ari Ne'eman's keynote speech at Syracuse University's Neurodiversity Symposium (an event about which I'd been whining, since I wanted to go but couldn't be in California and New York at the same time) was truly wonderful, needed to be shared more widely, and did I want a copy of his audio*? Oh yes, I did.

Ari's talk is indeed a must-listen; he spoke eloquently and forcefully about the neurodiversity/autistic self-advocacy movement, stating that:
"...it's essential that we recognize that neurodiversity is an outgrowth of disability rights, and that disability rights is an outgrowth of the civil rights movement."
To be clear: Ari and Robert, on the same day, were both publicly championing disability rights as civil rights, were spreading the word that the "concerns" of the disability community are actually human rights, were demanding not just the attention but the respect of every last person who could hear and spread their messages.

These are men who are primed to be allies. These are men who need to talk to each other.

Because, honestly, there are enough jerks outside our community, holding their paintball guns of self-righteousness aloft, shaking them and yelling at us to shut up about disability rights, getting pissed off when we shame them for verbally disrespecting us or our children, complaining about "all the money" neurodiverse and disabled kids and adults suck from the system. Turning those people around, that should be our battle.

And yes, there are people from our community who should be fighting alongside us, who should be cheering Robert and Ari along, who really, really are not. And while that is a shame and I have no problem calling out people like Jenny McCarthy whose specific actions derail our efforts, my hope is that through firm, vocal, and positive role modeling, such people may come to see the error of their mindsets and stand alongside us.

But then there are -- again -- people like Robert and Ari who are already on parallel paths, with the same or similar goals. Oftentimes what separates them is not ill will or disrespect, it's lack of each other's contexts. As I said at the BlogHer miniconference about my perspective as a parent:
Most of us have not done this before; as parents, most of us came from outside the special needs community. We have to learn everything from scratch. And after eight years of blogging about Leo and his autism, I came to realize I have learned so much from all of you, from Leo, from the professionals, from the adults who have autism -- and I so wish I had known everything I know now at the time Leo was first diagnosed. How amazing would it have been to transplant my current brain into my body in 2003?
We need to recognize the difference between genuine ignorance versus willful ignorance -- you can usually do something about the former, with enough patience and perseverance. When I started out writing about my Leo and his autism in 2003, I had very little context about people with autism; I was genuinely ignorant. I wasn't evil or malicious; I was underinformed -- I just hadn't had any exposure to Autistic self-advocates.

Thankfully the self-advocates I correspond with most frequently -- including Carol and Corina and Lindsey and Rachel and Landon and Val -- are mostly patient with me when I stumble in writing about or otherwise characterizing autism and disability issues. They usually treat me the same way I try to treat my kids -- they take a positive approach, and tell me what they want to see, or ask me if my omissions of perspective or content were intentional -- rather than lambasting me for what I may not yet know or have considered. And they mostly listen to my perspectives and advice, too. (As much as anyone does -- I am tangent-prone.)

I'm not saying everyone in our community has to agree all the time; that would be dull. But I am asking us to treat potential allies with respect, and have some patience with each other -- because we need each other if we're going to catapult Ari's and Robert's civil rights agendas into the mainstream where they belong. As Robert said at BlogHer:
"... for that to happen, all of our little communities of need will have to become a unified group. We must embrace the idea that the rising tide really can lift all our boats. More to the point, the retreating tide can and very probably will leave us all stranded in the mud."


*Excerpts from Ari's keynote will be posted on the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism tomorrow; you can view the webcast at neurodiversitysymposium.wordpress.com/210-2/. Thanks again to Mr. Silberman for his exuberant generosity.


BlogHer11 Geekery

Making fun of the Bieber for Mali
(Mali loathes the Bieber).
Every BlogHer11 day meant packing in months' worth of fun, geekery, learning, and camaraderie. Months' worth. It was like watching the TV show ER with my mom the emergency room nurse (the show's early years, before it sucked), asking if working in the ER was really like that, and having her respond that well, yes, mostly -- but over weeks and months, not in a single hour. My goal is to post my official conference wrap-up in two days, but until then here are some fine BlogHer11 geek pride moments.

Best t-shirt of the entire conference, worn by Chris Page. If you can't read it, it proudly declares, "I was a Mac developer when Apple was doomed."

Liz Henry, highly amused by the elevator signage and its location.

My official Wolverine photo! I was fierce at first, but at this point am about to giggle uncontrollably. Still, being Logan ruled. A conference highlight.

More BlogHer coming! It really was several months' worth of living in 2.5 days. Exhausting. Wonderful. Repeat those two words indefinitely and you'll capsulize my life.


TPGA at BlogHer11 Special Needs Minicon

BlogHer11 Special Needs Minicon panel: Your Truly,
Aurelia, Rob, and organizer/moderator Julia.
I'm on The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism today, with a cleaned-up version of the talk I gave at BlogHer11's Special Needs mini-con about awareness and community building, using TPGA as the example. Here's an excerpt:
Personally, I'm pretty pissy, just so you know. I'm grumpy. I'm easily irritated but I'm also able to prioritize and I think the community is more valuable than I am [all our editors do]. And as a result we've had amazing learning experiences, because we've made learning and listening more important than defensiveness. Even though it can be really hard, especially if people attack you personally -- it's hard to just say, really? Especially when they're talking about your son or your child or your parent or somebody you care about or something that's a really deep emotional experience, it's hard. It's hard to stay cool. This is something that took me a really long time to learn.
But it's so valuable. These are the communities that deepen into places where people really value their experiences. I can't tell you how amazing it's been at The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism -- it's an experience I never could have anticipated. 
More BlogHer coming! Including cooking with three star Michelin chefs!


Leo Caught a Wave with Surfers Healing

I think we're going to have to move to San Diego. Or Hawaii. Somewhere Leo can be in the waves every day. Leo's San Diego vacation week started with him staying up until 1:30 AM, stimming, vocalizing unhappily, physically out of sync*, asking to go home. Now that he's been to the beach every day for four days straight -- topped off with a session with a gold-standard, intuitive local ABA therapist -- he is talking a blue streak ("I don't have lemonade; I have a shirt!"), physically in sync, happy, balanced -- and his constant requests is to go to the beach, not back to our [four year old] "New House."

Leo got to have a hell of a "go to the beach?" day today, thanks to the luminous Autism Supermom, whom I got to meet at BlogHer, and who invited us to today's Surfers Healing surfing event! 

I had heard about the organization before and about how wonderful it is for the participants, and Landon at ThAutcast recently wrote about The Swell Life, an Oprah show about the Surfers Healing founding family -- but I'd also heard it was near-impossible to get in, and our trips to San Diego aren't always planned in advance, so I never imagined Leo would be able to join up.

I know I overuse the phrase "best day ever," but when you have a kid like Leo -- a kid whose whole life is about how he keeps topping himself -- we have a lot of best day evers.


Leo was thrilled from the moment he walked into the waves with his team (above). Then he rode out to the waves with his surfing buddy. Seymour and I sat on the beach, remarking on much Leo must be loving bobbing on the waves on the surf board, and how it wouldn't be long before he slipped into the brine.

It wasn't long, not at all.

And then ... Leo was back on the board. And the board was riding on a wave.

And then ... Leo did it! Our boy surfed!

It was so awesome. Leo came bounding out of the surf, bursting with the kind of giddy glee that is usually accompanied by prancing or the shooting of cannons. Widest grin ever, with giggles plus peals of laughter. So, so happy, our boy.

You can't quite see the happy here, because we had to make him come out of the water. But the momentarily absent happy is reflected in our faces, because when Leo's happy, we're happy for him.

You can see some of the happy, below, as he lolls in his beloved surf.

So proud of Leo. So grateful to Surfers Healing and Autism Supermom and all the amazing volunteers and excellent families and our community that makes such things happen.

So happy.

*This is a euphemism, people.


My Kid Fucking Loves the Beach

Leo would grow roots on the beach by my mom's house if only he could. It takes a forced extraction or an abrading tumble to get our boy out of those waves; otherwise, he seeks Zen-style oneness with the surf.

Seriously, look at this boy. He's found his spot. He is calm, centered, and full of self-directed happiness. We may need to spend more time here in San Diego, for Leo's sake (the rest of us would learn to tolerate it, somehow).

The girls each had milestones today. Iz spent the day with her dad at the Vans Warped tour and got to see her favorite group Paramore, and witness exuberantly trashy-mouthed punks play music that, according to Seymour, mostly failed to distinguish bands from each other.

Mali, well, she's going to be hitting up a certain fairy when we get back home next week. I am biased, but FUCK YEAH TEH CUTE.

Any expletive-generating events in your realm today?


Post-BlogHer 2011 Beach Tour Begins

Decompressing from BlogHer11 at my mom's cold, overcast, but still excellent beach.

Leo never got tired of wave-frolicking, nor of asking to "go surf." (the water was frigid and the waves were breaking fast and hard; I stuck to the upper splash zone while shouting encouragement to our brave, lower splash zone boy).

I remain very tired from BlogHer and suspect I'm not the only one; full dispatch by the weekend. Until then you can check out the LiveBlog from our BlogHer Special Needs mini-conference, but be warned: our co-presenter Robert Rummel-Hudson declared that the transcript makes him sound like he has a head injury, and most passages are similarly garbled. But hey, good keywords! And the audio version should be up soon.


BlogHer11 Pharma Shills!!

Jennyalice and I are finally coming clean: WE ARE PHARMA SHILLS!*

*Disclaimer: Jen and I are not actually associated with Pfizer in any way, other than trawling their BlogHer booth after a night of "festivities" for free Advil samples and getting out pictures taken. Thanks Pfizer!


Best moment of many best moments: Getting to be Logan. Hey, I'm 5'3", too. Though my claws are made of keratin, not adamantium. More coming!


16 Years of Wonder, with Big Sur Yurts, Sand Dollars & Condors

View from our campsite (click to enlarge)
I wouldn't mind waking up to this view every morning. It's standard stuff at Treebones, the southern Big Sur yurt-lovers' mecca where Seymour and I spent our 16th anniversary (you can see some of the yurts in the upper left corner).

And I wouldn't mind seeing California Condors again -- in a once-in-a-lifetime bird sighting overload, we came across 12 condors in 20 minutes. Seymour, life-long birder, did a happy dance when he spied eight of them just north of Point Sur. Then we saw another group over Bixby Bridge and he almost fell over. We did try to let a few of the understandably Bixby Bridge view-spellbound tourists know how privileged they were to see these rare, rare, wrested-from-the-brink-of-extinction birds, but mostly met with the tight smiles recognized by enthusiasts of all stripes. Fuck those tourists, man. WE SAW CONDORS, YEAH!

I also wouldn't mind spending every possible sunset at the jade-encrusted, sea critter and -weed festooned littoral playground that is Sand Dollar beach. Oh, heaven.

Sunset at Sand Dollar Beach (click to enlarge/see panorama seams)
And I'm grateful for every moment spent and every moment I'll get to spend with that man of mine, whether he's gifting me decapods of unusual size,

Agreeing that yes, this seaweed bit and its shadow do look just like a giant squid atacking a sperm whale,

That found seaweed arrangements can be exquisite,

That evidence of metamorphic geology should be fondled when possible,

And that life should be lived with gusto, appreciation, and approached with constant curiosity -- while keeping one's eyes open for Perseids (we saw several on our clear moonless star-spangled nights), condors, and all the miracles that surround us in Big Sur and elsewhere -- as long as we're paying attention.