Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lake Lopez

The thing I really love about living here is that every moment you are not actually working, you feel like you are on vacation. At least, I do.

Part of the reason for this is probably the climate, which still feels new and exotic to me after decades on the East coast and in Colorado. I'm accustomed to living near agricultural centers, but not like this. I'm still delighted every time I see oranges and lemons growing in someone's yard. K and I pulled over on the side of the road the other day to admire an entire field that had been planted with asparagus. That's not something you see in Denver or Hagerstown! And what are these beautiful purple thistles in our neighbors' garden? Oh, those are artichokes!

Living here, you are surrounded by green things growing (and purple and pink and blue things too.) But the thing I love best about our home county doesn't have any color at all. Can you guess what it is? It's the water!

It's everywhere! Lakes and rivers, beaches and bay...there are so many inviting ways to spend our off it, on it, even eating things that came out of it.

We are in the habit now of just leaving all our canoe gear in the back of the van, so it's easy to just hop in and go for a boat ride.

Last weekend we visited Lopez Lake. Of course, I love the ocean, but sometimes we just need a break from the summer fog. Before I moved here, I was always confused by that one line in the song "Lady is a Tramp." She "hates California?" "It's cold and it's damp?" LA always looked sunny and warm in the movies. What was Ella Fitzgerald talking about? Apparently, she was talking about Los Osos and all the other coastal towns between Santa Barbara and Monterey.

Maybe she didn't know about our inland lakes. Even on our foggiest, dampest, coolest days, there is a sunny wonderland hidden behind the hills, just a few miles to the East. Last Saturday, we found it up at Lopez Lake.

It was beautiful and sunny. And it's super easy to put the canoe in, because of the nice little shaded path that goes directly from the parking lot to the water. But, as you can see, it's a motor-boat kind of place. We had a nice time paddling around and exploring the quieter inlets, but as soon as we entered the main section of the lake, it was too loud with too much wake; not the relaxing experience we'd hoped for.

To get there, you have to drive on a bridge that spans a narrow section of the lake. The most exciting part of our visit was floating under that bridge. The whole place was abuzz with swallows dipping and diving all around us.

The birds wouldn't hold still for a photo, but we did get shots of their mud-sculpture nests. Aren't they amazing? I wouldn't know how to build one of these, would you? How do the Swallows know?

We also saw dozens of wind-surfers speeding around each other. At first I assumed that they have them for rent at the lake. But they were all going SO fast, I started to think it must be a race. I meant to ask about it at the gate on our way out, but I forgot because we were too busy telling the park ranger about the campers who were feeding Doritos to the wild-life. Poor dears.

There is also a giant water slide park at Lopez Lake. And, a number of interesting trails to explore. So, we will absolutely go up there again. We just won't go up for a day of boating...not unless we buy a speed boat and one of those big floating things on a rope that people use to drag their kids along behind them. That does sound like fun. But, I don't think our "kid" would like it.

Would you, Piper?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What? SUP!

They weren't here when I left the Central Coast in 2008, at least not in large numbers. Sure, you might have seen one once in a while, drifting eerily upright along the rippling skin of the water. But now, it seems like they are everywhere...meandering amidst the field of moored boats in front of the Morro Bay Yacht Club...scooting between the wet-suited surfers in the waves that curl around The Rock...cruising the Back Bay in pairs and pods, oblivious to the leopard sharks that swarm and breed just under the surface.

It's a new decade now, and a new water sport has come into it's own. Apparently, Stand Up Paddleboarding is here to stay.

I had never done it and neither had K. Of course we had to try it! So when D and E visited on 4th of July weekend, the four of us headed over to Central Coast Stand Up Paddling, which is easy to find on the Embarcadero, right across the street from Golden China.

It looks impossible. Can you imagine standing up on a board that is just floating in the water? Neither could I. But they say, "If you can stand up, you can do it."

(I took issue with this. There are plenty of people who have missing or otherwise impaired arms. I suggested a better saying might be, "If you can sweep the floor, you can stand-up paddle." But this got us off on a tangent about who sweeps the floor at home and why can't the other person seem to do it? Not a great advertising tactic. So, I'll let them keep their motto.)

They start you out on your knees. It's surprisingly easy to balance.

They give you a funny long paddle that looks like a duck's foot at the bottom. You have to hold it backwards. At least, the way you think it ought to be held is exactly opposite of how it works.

They watch you paddle around on your knees for a minute, and once the look of confused anxiety leaves your face, they encourage you to stand up. Suddenly, you're paddle boarding!

Before you know it, you're standing perfectly upright, and perfectly dry, in the middle of the bay, with nothing but a couple of inches of foam between you and all that cold, salty water. It's an amazing feeling.

It is so easy, and the folks at the rental place are so agreeable, that soon you'll be out paddling with your best friend right there on the board in front of you... if your best friend has a life jacket of her own, and is well trained to "Sit" and "Stay."

Be careful or you will soon fall victim to delusions of grandeur. It's easy to feel like some kind of fabled saint or miracle machine. The sensation is really similar to what it must be like to walk on water.

It's not like kayaking, where you're sitting down in the boat, working your arms and shoulders to carry your otherwise inert body through the water. It's not like surfing, where you depend on the ocean's own crashing velocity to propel you into a balanced position. It's really not like anything other than just taking a stroll around your neighborhood park.

Except, now your "neighborhood" is the collection of pleasure crafts and live-a-boards that populate our local waterways.

And your "park" is the quiet, gently rising water that hugs the lonely dunes while the tide pours in from the ocean.

It's a lovely mix of the mundane and the fabulous, the exotic and the everyday. I hope you get a chance to give it a try.

If you're in the area, you don't even have to commit to the hourly rental fee. CCSUP hosts free demos every second Saturday from 9 to noon.

And if you don't live in the area, you know what I'm going to say.

This is just one more reason you should come and visit us!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Blogging Pays

For the last couple months of my job search, I was getting pretty stressed out. I started hunting at the beginning of the year, confident I would find something in a couple of months. Before I knew it, the calendar said "April", and the suddenly "May!" I just couldn't believe almost half a year had zoomed by, and I was still unemployed.

In a panic, I started spending 10 hours a day in front of the computer. Monday through Friday I searched for jobs; I filled out applications; I re-wrote my resume; I got creative with my cover letters. By the end of each week, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was sit down at my desk and boot up the on-line machine again.

But, I'd made a commitment to keep this blog going. And in the face of so much failure and disappointment, I needed at least one project in my life that was going well. So I kept writing and I'm so glad I did.

During my second interview for the Program Specialist position at Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County, the executive director asked me, "Who is the real Madge Morningstar?" She and the other interviewers had liked my answers to all their questions. In fact, they had liked them so much that they began to suspect I was just telling them what they wanted to hear. I was too prepared, and over-polished.

This felt like an impossible questions for me to answer. It's a lot easier to prove to someone that you are NOT genuine, than to prove that you ARE. Trust takes faith and time. Well, she didn't have the faith (who could blame her) and I didn't have the time. The interview would be over in a few minutes, and I needed a job NOW.

I couldn't think of a thing to say that wouldn't sound like more of what I knew she wanted to hear. Maybe she was expecting to learn about my hobbies and life outside of work. But, I was afraid even this conversation would seem canned and rehearsed. Anticipating this kind of interest, I had prepared a page in my "brag book" with photos of me finishing trail races, rowing crew, playing with the dog and dancing salsa.

If I showed her this page, or even mentioned these activities, I was afraid she would view it as just more of my professional presentation. So I wracked my brain to come up with some acceptable proof of my authentic self that I could share with her on the spot. I had spent so much time preparing for every possible interview occasion that I was completely unprepared for being spontaneous.

We were sitting at her desk. He computer monitor showed that she was logged on to the internet.

"Would you like to look at my blog?" I asked?

Thank goodness I'd been keeping up with it! She sent me out of her office to chat with some of the other team members, while she read about the bed I built in our excitement over spotting a Great Tailed review of Pete's Pierside's tacos...and my admiration for Inga Swearingen. She even saw the photo of me soaking wet and goose-bumped all over, wearing pink patterned tights, giant floppy hat, cherry print Donna Reed apron and a strapless swimsuit on Polar Bear Plunge day.

At least she could see I had nothing to hide.

So she hired me! And I started the very next day! (One month ago exactly.)

It's an interesting, challenging, exciting job with a lot of different responsibilities. Including: supporting the "Bigs" and "Littles" in finding fun, inexpensive, interesting and educational things to do together here in San Luis Obispo County.

The half-year I've spent writing this blog has totally prepared me for that!