Summer 2013

We define summer three ways. There’s the celestial season: from the summer solstice on June 21st to the autumnal equinox on September 22nd. There’s the traditional vacation season, from Memorial Day on May 27th through Labor Day on September 2nd. Last, there’s summer vacation from school which, for us, ran all too quickly from June 6th through August 14th.

Let’s count our summer from Memorial Day through the autumnal equinox. That would make it as long as possible.

Even before the Snowden revelations, Joshua, Matthew, and I were fiddling around with internet anonymity software. We installed Tor browsers on all our machines and created a Tor relay node on one of our servers. We equipped ourselves with Tails flash drives so we could operate anonymously from most computers. None of us need anonymous browsing, but it was fun and I believe that it’s good to have such tools before you actually need them. Joshua, in particular, was fond of the notion and even used Tails to mask his activities on XtraMath from surveillance by his teacher and school. “Paranoid” before Snowden. “Prudent” now.

Eventually, our interest in anonymity led to Bitcoin, a decentralized, virtual electronic currency based on cryptographic algorithms. Matthew took a shine to Bitcoins and wanted me to buy a bunch, even though we didn’t have any place we could spend them. Buying them, as it turns out, was quite a process even then. We were looking at spending $500-$1,000 on Bitcoins at about $20 each. Suddenly, Bitcoins went from obscurity to front-page news and the price of a Bitcoin skyrocketed to almost $250. Even after the bubble burst, they held their value and are now trading at around $140. I coulda been a contender.

Matthew will never let me forget that I didn’t make the investment which would have made us rich. Instead of buying Bitcoins, we ended up buying a high-end computer graphics card and mining our own. (You “mine” Bitcoins by solving complex cryptographic problems.) At the time, the processors on graphics cards could mine Bitcoins pretty efficiently, but people are now building custom chips to do the job. Since miners essentially compete for a limited pool of Bitcoins, we can now only mine about three thousandths of a Bitcoin per day.
We started summer early by setting up the pool on May 18th. We started going in every day, even though Matthew was slammed by an insane amount of homework for the last two weeks of the school year.

The impulse buy of the season was a Turkish hammock, which we relaxed in, or fought over, whenever we were out of the pool.

While our Bitcoin riches were piling up, we took week-long trip to San Clemente, a little beach town where I misspent much of my youth. I found and rented a townhome a short walk from the pier. Then I began to try to figure out how to get there and back. It’s about an eight hour drive, which is pushing it with children. In the past, when we’ve gone to the Southland, we’ve stopped halfway. The problem is that, unless Buttonwillow is your cup of tea, there isn’t a whole lot to do on the trip if you take Interstate 5. The coast is cool, but takes a lot longer, and we have a limited amount of time for vacation.

We had taken the train a couple of years ago, but that required that we get off the train in Bakersfield, take a bus to Los Angeles, and get on the southbound train from there. It wasn’t a great experience. Could we take the train the whole way? I was poking around the Amtrak site and discovered that there is, indeed, a train (the Coast Starlight) that runs once a week from Vancouver to Los Angeles, and it happened to come through Sacramento on the day our vacation started, and returned on the day it ended. Furthermore, it stopped in San Clemente a few steps from our beach house. Perfect! Almost. The catch is that the train left Sacramento around 6:00am and arrived in San Clemente (after a transfer to the Pacific Surfliner in Los Angeles)  at midnight. A long ride, but with beautiful scenery, a cafe, a dining car, and lots of room to wander around. I don’t think we’ll do it again, but it was a fine one-time experience.

I’m used to visiting Orange County and being amazed at all that has changed. San Clemente was a surprise. It was like going back in time, even if my favorite taqueria now served an aioli wrap where once I could have gotten a bean-and-cheese burrito. I visited my grandfather’s old office (now a boutique, but otherwise unchanged) and a triplex my grandparents used to own.
My mom and dad came for a few hours each, and Joshua, Matthew, and I made 2-3 walks to the beach every day. Even more surprising was that my brother was visiting OC. We’d spent countless hours surfing that beach when we were teens, and when he dropped in for a visit it was downright spooky to be walking the same beach and riding the same most-excellent waves forty years later.

I had planned to take the train up to Anaheim for a day at Disneyland, but missed the fine print on the schedule where it said the “daily” Pacific Surfliner only stopped at San Clemente on weekends. We ended up having to rent a car, but the drive wasn’t too bad.

We got to Disneyland early. We were able to part with our $305 before we even boarded the tram from the parking lot, saving waiting in a line. Matthew wanted to ride Space Mountain first, so we thought we’d head there before the crowds. Just as we got there, they closed the ride. They weren’t even giving out Fastpasses. They said to come back in a few minutes, so we thought we’d get Fastpasses for Star Tours. The line was only fifteen minutes, though, so we went ahead and rode. Even after we finished, Space Mountain was still closed.

Splash Mountain is another favorite with traditionally long waits, but is clear across the park. We dashed over there (living in OC for years turned me into an expert high-speed Disneyland navigator) with the intention of getting Fastpasses, but the line was only ten minutes. So we rode that, too. On the way back to Space Mountain, we discovered that the Haunted Mansion had no wait, so we rode that. Pirates of the Caribbean had a ten minute wait (less, actually) so we rode that. Then back to Space Mountain where we were finally able to get a Fastpass.

While waiting for our assigned time, we rode the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones. Big Thunder Mountain was closed for maintenance, or we would have ridden that, too. We ate some lunch, then finally rode Space Mountain. By lunchtime, we had ridden most every major ride in Disneyland and hardly waited in line at all.

Can you say “karma”? One of our traditions is Grizzly River Run, which is over in California Adventure. We crossed over (one of the reasons our admission was so expensive is that it included both parks). When we’ve ridden Grizzly River Run in the past, it’s been a breeze because we rode at night. It’s a fabulous night ride, and there’s seldom a line because people are afraid of being wet at night. Unfortunately, we had to get the car back to San Clemente by five. The line said 75 minutes, but it ended up being over two hours. We ended up paying big bucks and waiting two hours to ride one single ride in California Adventure. We barely made it back to SC before the car rental agency closed.

We got on the train before 7am the next morning and took the long ride back, made a bit longer because the Coast Starlight was full and I was placed next to the Seatmate from Hell. She talked nonstop from Los Angeles to Emeryville. If I tried to read a book, she poked me until I was listening to her again. She was loudly breaking up with her boyfriend by telephone, and kept trying to include me in the conversation. I thought I’d get some relief when she put on her headphones, but she then began singing aloud to her music. Emphasis on the “loud.” I was never so happy to accompany Matthew and Joshua on trips to the bathroom and café car.

We arrived safely back in Sacramento in the middle of the night, but they were up early the next day for biscuits, gravy, and Minecraft.

There were formal events: Camp Kindness at the local SPCA, and clay camp at a local ceramics studio. There were trips to
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and to Fairytale Town and Funderland.
We spent a day at the California State Fair (retro arcade video game exhibit!) with Joshua’s friend Cole. We had friends over, and even a couple of sleepovers (misnamed, as there was very little sleeping) with friend Gavin.

There was a Nerf war with a bunch of Matthew’s friends at his school. We had fireworks in the back yard on July 3rd.

Elizabeth was reassigned to Woodland UMC and had to leave St. Andrew’s after 13 years. I left my day job at TCORE after 6 years. Mostly, though, there were late breakfasts, Minecraft on our family servers and on public servers (where Joshua became fascinated with donating to get ranks), alone or with as many as eight friends at a time, a smattering of other games, various anime shows and Joshua’s Johnny Test cartoons. We swam in the morning, played games together in the high-UV afternoon, then we’d pick and eat figs and berries, make Joshua’s special-recipe “mint drink,” swim in the evening, eat shaved ice (lime, chocolate, raspberry, and root beer Torani syrup beats that red, blue, and purple stuff), and have dinner, and read, and eat dessert, and read, and sleep.In between, we managed to grow a
cantaloupe vine and avocado tree from seed. We continued to mint milli-Bitcoins. Joshua rode his tractor. We got an Apple TV and rebuilt the media center

to accommodate it—and the WiiU and the PS3 and the XBox. Matthew and Joshua each got a Raspberry Pi (a $35 computer that runs Linux, designed to help youth learn to program) and a funky USB-powered glitter-filled lava lamp.

School happened way too soon, but we’ve clung tenaciously to some of the feel of summer. We continued to swim daily until Labor Day, when it was too cool to swim. Today and tomorrow, though, it’s in the upper 90’s so we’ll do a last swim or two. Alas, the solar pool cover tore in three or four places when I took it off today. The crepe myrtle tree has quit shedding its pink blossoms into the pool. There are no more figs, and the raspberry crop is thin. Two of the three pool toys don’t hold air anymore. The days are getting short, even if they’re still warm. Though we still, officially, have almost two weeks before the lastest-end-of-summer, I think it’s time to reluctantly concede that summer is coming to an end.