Freak Shows By Another Name Are Just As Gross

Freak Shows By Another Name Are Just As Gross

Ringling Bros. “Congress of Freaks” circa 1924. Wikimedia Commons

Ringling Bros. “Congress of Freaks” circa 1924. Wikimedia Commons

Recently I watched an old fashioned freak show. No, I didn’t visit the circus or the state fair. I saw the show from the comfort of the couch in my family room. It isn’t currently tasteful or politically correct to call someone a freak. Yet, under a different name the same type of show continues. Parading people who exhibit psychiatric issues for the purpose of entertainment is commonplace on every major television network. The worst part is often a medical or mental health professional is the P.T. Barnum.

A prime example of this phenomenon occurred on November 18 when Dr. Phil McGraw welcomed actress Shelley Duvall as a guest on his Dr. Phil television show. Dr. Phil has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology but he does not have a license to practice in any state. This particular show consisted of an interview with Ms. Duvall and a clinically inappropriate attempt to provide treatment. During the interview Ms. Duvall states people in security or at the bank are trying to hurt her. She reports some unknown man is threatening to hang up upside down in his classroom. She believes people are listening in on her conversations and the internet has compromised the government and defense department. Lastly, she routinely remarks about objects implanted in her body.

To any trained mental health professional, Ms. Duvall is in the midst of a potentially serious psychotic episode. Dr. Phil clearly recognizes her symptomology because he takes the time to demonstrate to his audience aspects of her illness.

During the course of the show Dr. Phil repeatedly tries to obtain Ms. Duvall’s consent for treatment. However, Ms. Duvall does not have the capacity to make rational decisions due to her inability to understand information that is presented to her. People in Ms. Duvall’s state cannot choose or refuse treatment and require either another individual or a court to make decisions for them. Dr. Phil must have studied consent in his training yet he continually tries for the sake of the cameras to have Ms. Duvall agree to treatment.


The show takes Ms. Duvall on a wild goose chase from Texas to California for treatment with the cameras following. Shocking to probably no working mental health professional, Ms. Duvall does not do well on the trip. Once in California Dr. Phil reports that after three days at a treatment facility Ms. Duvall refused to sign paperwork to accept treatment or take any medications. The show closed with Dr. Phil reporting that Ms. Duvall is being seen by professionals closer to her home.

The line between entertainment and what appears to be counseling, medical advice or treatment is blurry to the average consumer. Television personalities that use the prefix “Dr.” represent themselves as helping professionals. Their shows appear to provide assistance to people with significant emotional and psychiatric problems. However, just like in a circus these shows exploit vulnerable people for the benefit to the TV personality, show and network.

Doctors and mental health professionals are taught to use codes of ethics as guides to protect patients from abuse based on an inherent power differential. Generally, when a licensed professional acts against the prescribed code of ethics, there are ramifications up to and including revoking the license required to practice.

But what happens when a person who earned a degree in mental health but is not licensed in that profession crosses an ethical line? Well, absolutely nothing.

The exploitive nature of the relationship between Ms. Duvall and the show is crystal clear. She is a highly vulnerable person in need of real medical and psychiatric treatment. Ethical principles such as do no harm, obtain informed consent and avoid exploitive relationships are without a doubt breached. Yet, the unlicensed Dr. Phil is merely providing entertainment so he is not bound by the same regulations. Exhibiting Ms. Duvall, with all of her obvious psychiatric issues, on television is an atrocious abuse of power, one that would be easily sanctioned by a professional ethical review board.

However, one need not be bound by a professional code of ethics to act ethically and morally. It is unacceptable for high-powered highly-influential television networks and personalities to continually abuse vulnerable people for the sake of entertainment. Sure, people should know that television shows simply provide information and entertainment and the material presented should in no way be conceived as clinical advice. But no matter how many times that sentiment is conveyed people continually line up to be helped by these famous professionals.

It is wrong to profit in any way off of someone’s misfortune. It is downright vile to do so while simultaneously publicly humiliating and potential worsening that person’s health crisis.

The lack of outrage from the public about shows like Dr. Phil, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and even Dr. Oz who peddles assorted products is deafening. Sure there may be a holler from time to time in relation to a particularly egregious show or when someone dies after an appearance. However, in rapid succession, business returns to usual. Eventually viewers become rabid for the next freak in line. And just like always, another vulnerable person is signs up for the show.

As a society, we can and should do better. Let’s not call the freak show by a more tolerable name. Let’s end the show once and for all by tuning out.

Parenting After A Dark Election

Parenting After A Dark Election


Tall Paul Photo

I cried myself to sleep last night. I cried for the people who have pre-existing chronic conditions. I cried for the Muslims. I cried for the people living with disabilities who just saw their most powerful bully get elected to the presidency. And I cried for all the women who were hoping the glass ceiling could be broken once and for all. However, of all the thoughts that swirled through my brain, here is what weighed the heaviest: How would I look my kids in the eyes and tell them about the election results? How would I deal with my own devastation to help them understand what I don’t fully understand?

Throughout the past few months my husband and I thought it was important to bring our children, ages 13 and 10, into the fray of the election. We watched the debates. We listened to the various soundbites and processed them over dinner. In the days leading up to the election my daughter watched me prepare my election-day pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton. I baked a victory cake, and we invited a handful of friends over to watch the election. This was going to be a big moment and our kids were coming along for the ride.

But it didn’t go as planned.

In all the excitement I forgot to prepare my children for an eventuality that I didn’t think was possible. And now, millions of parents are facing the stinging disappointment staring back at them in their children’s faces. It’s devastating.

But we can’t sit in the corner and cry over what happened. Life isn’t over, especially for our sons and daughters. Children have no historical reference for this election. When mine return from school today, I am going to tell them that, no, we are not doomed. There have been other times of great conflict and hate in this country. Slavery, internment and segregation are terrible atrocities that happened on American soil. And yet, when people came together, good eventually prevailed. The work of a democracy is never done. Many in our country don’t have equal rights and they experience prejudices on a daily basis. Millions of children still don’t have enough to eat or weather-appropriate clothes for school. Women still aren’t given the same opportunities as men. So we, the people of this democracy, will need to vote, protest, stand up for the vulnerable; will need to educate and reach across aisles of all kinds to address this nation’s issues. Strong and principled people did this in past times of darkness, and we can do it, too.

I’ll tell my children how government works, but in terms they can understand. One man cannot singlehandedly rule America. There are checks and balances. Laws are fluid and can be changed. People who are elected can be taken out of power through a well-defined process, if need be.

I will help my kids find their own voices and words for their feelings. I won’t leave them alone to process this on the schoolyard just because I am personally bereft. I will teach them how to use their voices to make change. I will show them examples of lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and politicians who dedicated their lives for the betterment of our country.

I will not be able to deal with the fallout of this election with one conversation with my children. They will need more and so, truly, will I. In the coming weeks and months (and maybe even years) I will continue to read books, watch documentaries, visit important museums and landmarks, and do what is in my power to do to keep the conversation going in our house and elsewhere. I will use my children as my boomerang to bring me back to a place of hope for the future.

And we will find a way, collectively, to move ahead.


#Juslims: When Your Kid’s Halloween Costume Goes Viral and Affects Millions

#Juslims: When Your Kid’s Halloween Costume Goes Viral and Affects Millions

A week before Halloween talk turned to costumes. My son wanted to be Darth Vader. My daughter, Casey, and her friend, Yasmin, were going to be Juslims. Casey is Jewish and Yasmin is Muslim. They combined their religions to create a tutu and stripy-tight wearing superhero. Their superpower? Watching each other’s backs. Sweet, I thought and my husband took the girls to the store to buy matching t-shirts and a cape. And that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

On the Friday before Halloween the girls wore their costumes to school. A friend snapped a picture of the superhero duo. Later that day my husband and I posted the picture up on social media. Then it happened. It went viral beyond anything I’ve seen go viral. We watched the retweets and likes go up and up and up. First tens of thousands of people responded. Then hundreds of thousands of people. Someone in England’s Parliament tweeted about the picture and so did J.K. Rowling. People from Egypt, Ireland, Israel, Pakistan, Canada and Argentina tweeted it. Buzzfeed called and then the BBC and CNN and Upworthy. Teen Vogue featured the girls and so did ABC news in Los Angeles. The next day the Juslims were even on the homepage of Yahoo.

The number of people posting about the Juslims was incredible. But the comments were what really struck me. People wrote about having their faith in humanity restored. Some said the girls should run for president. Many people tweeted some version of, “I was feeling low but the Juslims gave me hope.” People tweeted to Marvel and DC Comics to make the Juslims into a book. And yet another person on twitter created a superhero cartoon of the girls in their costumes.


My husband and I are beyond blown away that the sight of a Jewish girl and her Muslim friend in 2016 in America could affect so many people so deeply. It all felt strange and I started to feel a bit like a fraud. The girls weren’t trying to make a statement. They weren’t standing up for anyone’s rights. They were just two friends who weren’t encumbered by differences in race or religion.


Casey and Yasmin being interviewed by Buzzfeed.

Days have passed since the picture went viral. There have been various people contacting us to see if the girls want to write a book or speak at a synagogue or perhaps do another interview. I’ve asked Casey if she is interested in moving forward with the Juslims. But she isn’t. Her costume was born out of a friendship that was thoughtless, meaning race and religion never came into play. Since there was no hidden message Casey can’t really see how she could authentically continue to promote cross-racial or religious understanding. She doesn’t even think about it. That is the most beautiful part of the Juslims.

Casey and Yasmin see that Casey is white and Yasmin is black. They know that Casey is Jewish and Yasmin is Muslim. Casey knows about Ramadan, and Yasmin attended Casey’s Bat Mitzvah earlier this year. They clearly see the differences. They just don’t care. And that is truly the best part of the Juslims. It was just two girls who didn’t think about their differences in any deep or meaningful way. They are different. So what. They are way more alike than different anyway.

Raising children to be colorblind was a misguided parenting philosophy of the past. Studies show that even infants see differences in color. When children are raised to see color but value those differences instead of creating biased prejudices you get the Juslims, two girls in tutus and stripy tights who’ve got each other’s backs.

I have realized from the great response to the Juslims that there are too many places where people are left feeling different and unsupported (or worse, persecuted and unsafe). I hope that the Juslims inspire people to bravely reach out to others. Invite people who look different over for dinner or a play date. Bring people of different faiths to your mosque or temple or church. Whatever efforts we collectively around the world are doing are woefully inadequate. As one person put it on Twitter, let’s hope that the values behind the viral picture of the Juslims become as viral as the post. I’ll second that.

Why Millions of Parents and Babies Now Won’t Sleep For A Year

Why Millions of Parents and Babies Now Won’t Sleep For A Year


Parents and infants should room together for one year after birth to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). That’s the latest recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—and it’s completely unreasonable.

When I first heard the news I felt irate and grave concern. For me, personally, the idea of sleeping for up to a year in the same room as my children when they were infants was downright frightening. As a light sleeper I know room sharing would mean that I would likely go 365 days sans solid rest. But as a family coach I know room sharing could have long-term negative unintended consequences that are not addressed in the recommendation.

Parents are subjected to a slew of suggestions on childrearing from experts. Breast is best. Cover outlets. Don’t leave infants unattended in the bath or on the changing table. Properly fasten children in car seats on all car trips. Avoid choking hazards. Address chipping paint and potential lead poisoning threats. Secure windows to avoid accidental falling. Cover fireplaces and guard stoves to prevent burning. The list of health and safety advice for new parents is long and frequently overwhelming. Based on solid research, these recommendations aim to prevent harm and improve health and wellness in children. That’s all well and good. But what happens when the side effects of solid advice are potentially worse than not following the advice?

Studies show that the risk of SIDS is reduced 50 percent if children and parents share a room. However, what goes unsaid is that sleeping in the same room has its own drastic consequences. Parents and infants who sleep in the same room both experience worse sleep than if they slept alone. Think about it. If a baby makes even the softest sound the parent might assume the child is waking and preemptively feed a bottle or pick up to soothe. But if left alone the child may well have just made some noise and gone back to sleep. Research shows that children have a higher incidence of night waking when they sleep with their parents. Furthermore, mothers who share a room with children report a more strained co-parenting relationship and higher depression symptoms. Additionally, women with a history of depression reported less attachment to their children even at six months of age when sharing a room. Also, chronically tired adults and children regularly suffer behavioral affects, including diminished patience, lower coping and impaired judgement.

According to AAP, each year nearly 3,500 infants die of sleep-related causes— including ill-defined deaths and accidental suffocation. In 2014, the last year for which data is compiled, approximately 1,500 infants died specifically from SIDS.  The numbers of SIDS deaths have declined sharply in the last 25 years due to an impressive education campaign. Doctors and literature all recommend that children are put to bed on their backs and without blankets and bumpers to avoid accidental suffocation.

The death of any child is heartbreaking. But one that is preventable is unequivocally unbearable. Therefore, it is logical that conscientious parents would do just about anything to prevent premature death. However, the latest guidelines cannot be considered in a vacuum. Preventing the death of 1,000 children yearly is vital. But what if the current guidelines potentially negatively affect parents of the nearly 4 million babies born every year in the United States? The collateral damage of the recommendation for the vast majority of parents must also be contemplated.

Thinking about parenting guidelines and collateral damage reminds me of my struggles to breastfeed after the birth of my first child. The clear recommendation for myriad reasons is for mothers to breastfeed for as long as possible. After my daughter had a brief stint in the NICU and I had major milk overproduction issue, I struggled tremendously to breastfeed. The pain of infection and physical exhaustion was damaging my relationship with my daughter. I didn’t even want to pick her up for fear of producing more milk or feeling pain. After the third distressed call to my doctor she uttered words that went against popular medical advice—“Maybe you should stop breastfeeding.” She didn’t want to discourage me, but she sensed what I knew all along. Breastfeeding, while highly recommended, wasn’t the only important aspect to consider when deciding what was best for my child. Our relationship was paramount and breastfeeding was impairing that relationship.

While I respect the AAP and use their recommendations on a variety of parenting matters, I do think a conversation needs to be started about how to interpret their guidelines. Parents need to be educated and supported to make choices that are right for their family considering the evidence presented. All of the evidence. Not just the narrow focus of one particular recommendation.

Preventing SIDS is immensely important. No parent should have to experience that loss. However, the AAP recommendation of room sharing should be interpreted as a guideline. In no way do I recommend putting children to bed on their stomachs or co=sleeping in the family bed. Those risks are considerably higher. But the benefit of room sharing just doesn’t seem to outweigh the relative risks.

The Importance of Playing Hooky

The Importance of Playing Hooky


I had near perfect attendance in grade school. It was annoying. My sister was sick all the time and got to have the TV put in her room while I had to run off to school. One year my mom took pity on me and surprised me with a hooky day. She said I didn’t have to go to school. Instead we could do something fun. I don’t remember at all what we did. Clearly that didn’t matter. What did matter though was that I learned that sometimes taking a day off is more important than the seemingly important stuff in our lives.

Today I learned that lesson again. I am completely swamped with work and life. My to do list has several mini lists. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel at all. I’m stressed and burdened and missing the fun of life worrying about what I have to get done. I’ve been on the brink of tears for several days. My kids are out of school for the summer in just one more day. Panic is setting in rapidly.

Then I get a text. I wasn’t even out of bed but I was already thinking about what I will conquer first on my last full day to work. I grab the phone and it’s my friend Noel saying, “Last minute paddle board trip, share my board?” Oh crap. I have no time for this. No business at all dropping my work to run off with a friend to paddle. Then she adds, “Cloudy, but calm.” It’s at this point that the thought of my childhood hooky day floats by. The joy. The surprise. The adventure. I wrote back, “OK, Darn it. I’m coming.”

For the last year since I moved to California I have been trying to paddle with sea lions, whales, dolphins and anything else that wants to swim by. Usually it’s windy or murky or there are gigantic waves. When I heard it was calm I couldn’t resist.

So I hopped in the car and met Noel and another friend Michelle. The ocean was like a watercolor painting. Flat, reflective, beautiful. We saw another boarder out quite a way surrounded by dolphins. Noel was determined. I sat on the front of her board and she worked like a woman on a mission to paddle us out there before the dolphins left. For a while it seemed like no matter how far we paddled they were still further away.

FullSizeRenderWe took turns paddling. Finally, both exhausted, we made it. There were dolphins and more dolphins. They just kept coming in packs. Big, stunning, shiny dolphins only 15 feet from our board. It was a thrill of a lifetime that I almost missed because I have a lot of work.

Now I’m home and the to do list stands unattended. I haven’t made a dent. I’ll be up late tonight and I’m sure tomorrow night too. But a hooky day was exactly what my psyche needed. Now I feel ready to face the work with a smile dreaming of my dolphin friends from this morning. I’m not stressed. I’m happy.


The California Road Trip

The California Road Trip


Waterfall at Hetch Hetchy

7 days, 983 Miles, A Castle, Elephant Seals, A Coyote, A Kringle, Beaches, Waterfalls and a National Park

A year and a half ago my family made the decision to leave all of our friends and family in New York and move out to the West Coast. I had lived all my life in New York except for the four years of college. My parents grew up in New York and my grandparents (except for one) were all born in New York. Even my great grandparents came off their boats into New York. So it was pretty radical for us to pick up and relocate. People asked us if we moved for work. But we said, “No.” Others asked if we moved to be closer to family. Same answer, “No.” We moved for a family adventure. We wanted to see different people in different lands. Now, California may not seem so different but it is. We were moving to see another part of the country and get to know it.

This year my son is in 4th grade. Thanks to a brand new initiative started by President Obama, he and my entire family get into any national park for free. Given this great opportunity and the fact that this is the centennial year for the National Park system, we decided to make spring break a road trip. For seven days we would see some of California’s state treasures, including the breathtaking Yosemite Park.

Our trip was magical. I don’t mean nothing went wrong or it was all perfect. It wasn’t. But it was an opportunity for the four of us to spend literally 24/7 together disconnected from the Internet and our electronics. We had no computers, no cell service and no WiFi. And we survived. Here is a summary of our fantastic trip with some details in case you too want to take the same trip.

Day 1 Santa Barbara, Solvang and Pismo Beach

We left Southern California and headed for Santa Barbara. My friend, Ellie, told me we had to stop at La Super Rica. She was right. It is an off-the-beaten-path gem beloved by Julia Child for homemade Mexican food with handmade tortillas created the moment they’re ordered. Among other things I had the rajas, which is grilled green chiles sautéd with onions and melted cheese. Sounds simple, but I tell you this is one of the best morsels of food I have ever had. I will dream about the rajas.

Traveling with children requires a special itinerary. In my family we set the schedule around food. My kids are happiest when they can get a special snack and visit a bookstore on vacation. The town of Solvang in Santa Barbara County was a perfect second stop on the way to Pismo Beach. It was a wee bit out of the way but totally worth it. Solvang is a Danish hamlet in the middle of nowhere. It has windmills and clogs and Dutch-looking buildings. We stopped at The Danish Village Bakery and Coffee Shop. The baked goods all looked amazing, but when I spotted the Kringle (like a Nordic pretzel stuffed with custard) I knew we had to get it. Another great choice. We had so much dessert we skipped dinner. That was a first for us. Solvang also had a fabulous independent bookstore where both kids bought a book to keep them busy for the rest of the journey.

Solvang Bakery

Solvang Bakery


This is a Kringle.


We ended the day checking into the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach. It was late and after some initial hotel room excitement the kids went to bed for the night. Lacking electronics, I happily did, too.

View from SeaCrest Hotel Room

View from SeaCrest Hotel Room

Day 2 Architectural Graveyard

The SeaCrest offered a mediocre breakfast. But at the meal I met a nice lady who visited the areFullSizeRendera every year. She recommended The Architectural Graveyard at California Polytechnic State University, then Hoagies restaurant for dinner. We really didn’t have anything planned for the day so we took a trip to see Cal Poly and the graveyard. To get the graveyard one must take a 2.5 mile hike at a slight incline. The massive structures built out of steel and concrete were left there as part of a senior engineering design class at the college. In April (especially in an El Niño year) the wildflowers were rampant. After running through the flowers, a la Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie opener, we wandered through the structures. Some could be climbed, others were just amazing to behold. It is unlike anywhere I have been and probably one of my favorite portions of our trip.

IMG_2919  FullSizeRender-4

After a quick lunch we headed to the Morro Bay Estuary (where a river meets the sea) for a little bird watching.  This place is an absolute gem. My son took out his California bird guide, and we went hunting for birds. Turns out that area is a rookery (breeding colony on the tops of trees) for Herons and Cormorants, both of which we saw nesting. We headed onto Morro Bay Main street for a quick bowl of clam chowder, and then we were off to find the otters. Morro Bay is home to loads of otters that hang out in the kelp just off Morro Rock. The sunset was breathtaking as we made our way back to Pismo beach so we pulled over to watch the show. The kids weren’t feeling it so they relaxed in the car as we gazed over the water. All tuckered out at nearly sundown we rolled into Hoagies for a great low-key, family-friendly dinner before we all collapsed in our beds.

Morro Bay Estuary

Morro Bay Estuary


Day 3 Elephant Seals and Hearst Castle

For day three we scheduled a visit to Hearst Castle. But before we left Pismo beach we stopped at Old West Cinnamon Rolls for their famous, well, cinnamon rolls. Sure, they are a bit sweet and excessive for breakfast but we were on vacation. On the way to the castle we stopped suddenly because we saw zebras on the side of the road.

With the zebra

With the zebra

Yup, zebras. Apparently they are descendants from William Randolph Hearst’s collection of wild animals. Then we stopped to see the Elephant Seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery in San Simeon. The beach was so covered with seals that my son didn’t even notice them at first. They lounge and throw sand and somehow get in and out of the water. We could have watched them for hours.


Elephant Seals

Finally we parked at the bottom of the hill from Hearst Castle and waited for our tour to begin. It is necessary to buy one of the tours to see the castle. Make sure to book in advance because they sell out and you don’t want to get all the way there just to see the parking lot. The castle is beyond extravagant. Our guide was a bit wordy and loved to tell a winding story, but he was also incredibly knowledgeable. I left the castle feeling like a dreamer. It’s just that kind of place.


After an eventful day we hopped back in the car and headed toward The Oaks Hotel in Paso Robles. The drive was spectacular, with rolling green hills and the most amazing cows. Were I to be a cow, I’d want to live somewhere between the coast at San Simeon and Paso Robles. Cows have acres of pasture to eat and roam as they please. I probably stopped 1,000 times to talk to the cows and take pictures. I love those cows.

The Oaks in Paso Robles looks like a La Quinta from the outside. Ordinary. But then you step into a hotel that is cared for like a beloved bed and breakfast. When I booked the room I asked for them to leave the kids a surprise by the bed. It didn’t matter what it was. My kids love hotel rooms and all the mysteries waiting behind an unfamiliar door (free soap! Conditioner!). Anyhow, this time the hotel staff left a basket chock full of goodies. The breakfast was extensive and included any kind of eggs you wanted made on demand by the chef.

Day 4 Mariposa and The Gold Rush

Right after breakfast we embarked on our three-hour drive through wine country and farms to Mariposa. Mariposa, California is a sleepy town founded as an outpost for gold miners. It doesn’t look like much has changed in the town, in a good way. The kids were ready for a treat so we stopped at Jantz  Café and Bakery in the village. My daughter got the behemoth and delectable coconut cream pie with real meringue that tasted like marshmallow clouds. The crust was light and buttery and insanely fresh. I had a fruit pocket (think Pop Tart) made form the same piecrust. They were so delicious we stopped back at the bakery on our way out of town the following day for four more pockets.

A The Restful Nest

Chilling at The Restful Nest

We spent the night at the Restful Nest Bed and Breakfast.

I’ve stayed in many B&Bs across the country. I have never had a better breakfast or one that was prepared by someone more thoughtful than owners, Lois and Jon. Breakfast consisted of two types of homemade sausage, stuffed mushrooms, thick cut bacon, muffins, several types of eggs, fruit plates, a Spanish tortilla with potatoes, cut vegetables with homemade hummus, and assorted other goodies. Lois and Jon made sure that every food allergy and preference was accounted for. They are lovely people. The room wasn’t fancy and the furniture has probably been around a while, but it was spotless. We were all sad to leave so soon.

Breakfast Feast

Breakfast Feast

Day 5 Welcome to Yosemite National Park


El Capítan and Half Dome with Waterfall

We had a great trip so far but I couldn’t wait to get to Yosemite National Park. We drove into the park from the west on route 140. The rock formations were imposing and majestic. The wildflowers blanketed the hillside with orange splendor. It was so magnificent it all looked a bit manufactured, like a grand movie set. We made our way east and then north in the park toward Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir formed on the Tuolumne River. This is an out-of-the-way area in Yosemite and many of the roads and trails in the park were still closed due to the winter snowfall. This made it feel like we had the park to ourselves. We parked and walked across the dam, through a long dark tunnel and onto the trail that followed the rim of the giant lake.

Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy

The park ranger told us to hike until we saw the second waterfall. This would be about five-mile walk round trip. It was a warm, sunny day and my daughter was dragging a bit. But then we made it to the second waterfall and the magic happened. The kids decided to slide down the rocks and into the mini pools of water. I happily watched as the plunged into freezing cold-yet-invigorating water.

Feeling refreshed we walked back to the car and drove the short distance to The Evergreen Lodge. The lodge reminds me of the hotel in Dirty Dancing, just a good old-fashioned family vacation spot. They have activities throughout the property including billiards, ping-pong, a rope zip-line swing, climbing elements, a pool and adventure games. Every night we rushed to the giant fireplace to enjoy smore’s with families from all over the country and the world. It felt oddly like being away but also being home. Full from dinner and sticky from our s’mores we turned on the gas fireplace in our room and drifted off to sleep.

Day 6 Yosemite Valley

Behind our room the woods was home to birds and animals galore. We awoke to find families of deer roaming and gorgeous Steller’s Jay birds. On the way to the valley we stopped to hike down to the Giant Sequoias in Tuolumne Grove. It is a 3-mile hike down and then through the forest. The hike back up is a little challenging but we managed. The trees are like statues or monuments. Massive and vulnerable, yet sturdy and strong. There is one tree you can walk through and one that has fallen and decayed so that you can tunnel through it along the ground.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

We left the trees behind and headed to the Yosemite valley. Along the way we spotted El Capítan, Half Dome, and many wondrous waterfalls. Since the snow was still melting throughout the park there were waterfalls around every turn. One waterfall was as high as the Empire State Building. We parked at the Yosemite Village Visitor center and hopped on the bus to the trail for Mirror Lake. The hike to Mirror lake was easy and well worth the effort. The lake lived up to its name—it was as still as glass and reflected like a perfect mirror. After another long day of hiking and driving we settled back into The Evergreen for dinner, s’mores and bed.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Day 7 The Final Day

We grabbed breakfast to go out of the Evergreen convenience store and hit the road. Just wanting to enjoy one last bit of Yosemite, we left through the south entrance on Route 41.

Before leaving the park, we spotted a bushy coyote. We pulled off the road and he walked right up to the side of the car and just stood there. Time stopped, we had our moment with him, and then he wandered off.

On the way out of Mariposa County we stumbled upon Coursegold Historic Village. Walking through this unique shopping area with teensy-tiny historic buildings was like taking a walk in the 1850s. After a quick pause for coffee and Italian soda’s from Zanders, we were on the road again.

An emergency bathroom break took us off the highway into a McDonalds about 30 minutes north of Bakersfield. Before getting back on the highway we realized we were in McFarland, made famous from “McFarland, USA,” a terrific film that you should see. We drove up to the high school and they were having a giant track meet. Considering the movie is about McFarland High’s impressive running program, this was thrilling. My kids couldn’t care less, but I exited the car to snap some pictures.

McFarland, USA

McFarland, USA

The kids regularly watch “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the Food Network show. We all love to eat and travel so it’s a family classic. When we travel we always try to find a restaurant that was featured on the show to stop for a bite. We uncovered a winner with Moo Creamery in Bakersfield. The place is a little hard to find (it’s tucked in the back of a parking lot), but when one enters she steps into an updated-but-retro version of Al’s Diner from Happy Days. The food was great—especially inventive ice cream flavors like cereal milk and maple bacon.

Final Thoughts

The California coast and our National Parks are spectacular gifts from nature. Most of the best activities and sights in our itinerary were free or inexpensive and access was easy. We encountered deer, zebra, coyote, cows and more cows, elephant seals, otters and loads of amazing birds. This trip exceeded all of our expectations. FullSizeRender-13

Taking a road trip with a nearly 13-year-old daughter is supposed to be rough. Girls that age are purportedly moody, and they have trouble venturing away from their friends and (gasp) WiFi. My daughter has her moments but she was an absolute delight on this trip. Throughout our week-long adventure my daughter and I walked with her arm around my shoulders and mine around her waist. She isn’t much of a hugger and that’s just fine. But it makes these moments when she initiates putting her arm around me like camp buddies that much more special.   walking arm and arm casey solvang

We all experienced a little sadness when we returned home. It was just that good of a trip. On to planning the next adventure.

I’m the shorter one relishing the moment.