Category Archives: Environment

WordPress weekly photo challenge: Sun

Since I live in San Diego, CA, I get to see a lot of sun. More sun than many people in other parts of the world. And even more sun than the people who live by the beach in San Diego and experience the thick marine layer that won’t lift off many days of the year.

Even though it can get pretty hot in the summer (90 degrees and up in the middle of the day is common, 35 degrees and up for those of you outside of the U.S.) and we go through a lot of sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, I can’t complain. It doesn’t as hot as the rest of the Southwest (boiling Arizona, anyone?) and I never experience “lack-of-sunlight” caused depression, i.e. seasonal affective disorder, in the winter.

The weather is the main reason I moved to San Diego 14 years ago and I don’t regret my choice. It’s also a great place to raise little kids, with so many attractions to visit and a wide variety of landscapes. Am I making you want to move here yet? Wait, gas is at least $4.25 a gallon now, always one of the highest prices in the country. How does that sound?

There’s something about the San Diego sunlight that makes for great photos. Maybe it’s the latitude we’re at and the way the sun rays hit us, but our sky is often a gorgeous blue. However, if you want to take great pictures of landscapes, you need to do it early in the morning or from the right angle, or in the winter, when the sun rays aren’t so bright. Otherwise, you get something like this:

Wordpress weekly photo challenge: Sun

Wordpress weekly photo challenge: Sun

That day I was trying to take a photo of the different types of steam clouds caused by several airplanes in the sky, but no matter how low or high I aimed the camera, I kept getting the sun rays in the lens. The sun was just in the wrong place for me. 

Last year when we went on vacation to Iddylwild, a lovely tiny town in the mountains of Southern California, we got to enjoy several walks in the woods. It was refreshing to see so many large trees, mostly fragrant pine trees, especially since 95% of the trees in the mountains of San Diego County burned down in the wildfires of 2003, and then again in 2008. I took a lot of pictures during our trip, but I like this one especially, showing the imposing height of this pine tree as it hides the sun behind.

Wordpress weekly photo challenge: Sun behind a pine tree in Idyllwild

Wordpress weekly photo challenge: Sun behind a pine tree in Idyllwild

Look at this wonderful tree. Nature stands tall in front of me, and I can only bow in admiration.

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Enjoying the mountain fresh air – Idyllwild, California

Idyllwild Park, California

Idyllwild Park, California

Our family spent most of last week on vacation in the mountains of Southern California. I have no shame admitting camping is not on my list of enjoyable vacation activities. Sorry but if I go away from home, I require at the minimum: a shower with hot running water, a comfortable bed and a fridge. Add a microwave, a stove, a tea kettle and internet connection (scroll below), and I’m really happy. So we rented a wood cabin a mile away from the lovely small town of Idyllwild, CA for six days, 5000 feet up and away from most civilization larger cities. The best part? Idyllwild is just a little over two hours away from San Diego, where we live.

It’s the first time my kids have spent a significant amount of time up in the mountains and I think the fresh air did them some good. Well, that’s if you take away the billions of particles of yellow tree pollen that fell around the house, on my car and everywhere else every day. Not sure what it was, but it made me sneeze the whole time! The kids seemed to adapt so well to the altitude and the fresh air, they skipped their naps on most days. “We’re too excited to sleep”, they would say. Hmm, thanks, I could have used a few naps myself…

Spending our vacation in the mountains was my choice. Mountains are the only places in Southern California displaying greenery all year round. Don’t misunderstand me, you’ll never see me up these mountains in the dead of winter. I can’t stand the white stuff, the ice and the cold that go with it. But for June, it was the perfect place to be.

We took the kids hiking along trails through beautiful pine-smelling forests (gosh, I LOVE the smell):

Hiking in Idyllwild Park, California

Hiking in Idyllwild Park, California

I had plenty of opportunities to take beautiful pictures of our surroundings, including of the Strawberry Creek that runs through the town:

Strawberry Creek in Idyllwild, CA

Strawberry Creek in Idyllwild, CA

The kids even had the opportunity to dress up as coyotes at the Idyllwild Nature Center. Yes, it’s a real coyote pelt…

Coyote pelt at Idyllwild Nature Center

Coyote pelt at Idyllwild Nature Center

We got to try new restaurants, some of them featuring delicious food, others we’ll never go back to. We endured paying $4.50 a gallon for milk, and $6.00 for 1.5 quart of ice cream. At that price, it all tasted wonderful! Since our cabin came with a fully-equipped kitchen, we catered to our frugality by cooking many of our meals at home. Both kids and parents even caught up on some movies, available for free at the rental office. Can you believe we all saw Pixar’s Cars for the first time? Yes, I’m talking about Cars 1…

The only drawback to our trip (besides the overwhelming tree pollen)? Technology, or rather the lack of. My Virgin Mobile phone displayed no service most of the time. That meant no phone calls, no texting and no data available. Argh!!! And the cabin didn’t even offer WiFi, even though the website told us it did. Fortunately my husband managed to use his full-bar-displaying Verizon phone (not fair!) as a WiFi hotspot so I could still check email and blog while away from home. I told you I don’t do camping. For this, I’ll be forever grateful to Verizon my husband.

Overall we had a great time there and got to try new things. Sometimes you don’t have to go far away from home to enjoy a well-deserved break.

Are you planning to go away on vacation this summer? Or are you planning a staycation instead?

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Why we chose artificial grass for our yard

At the time we moved into our house last fall, we knew we’d have to do something with our small backyard to make it more hospitable, but we also wanted to pick a solution that would work for the whole family.

Original yard

What did our yard look like originally? Take a look for yourself on the right. Yep, dirt, plain dirt. Easy to maintain and water-free, but not great for the kids to play (read “fall”) on, and literally dirty /dusty. Part of our yard was also covered with large tiles, again not a very forgiving landing area for falls. This makes me wonder, why do kids fall so often when their center of gravity is so much lower than ours? I must have missed the physics class explaining this strange phenomenon…

Living in the San Diego area, where water is an expensive and precious commodity, makes you think twice about installing and maintaining a lush green lawn for financial and environmental reasons, so we quickly crossed out that option. We then considered wood chips. Since they use them so often for playgrounds, why not for our yard? I personally hate how wood chip terrain instantly takes away your option to walk barefoot or with sandals. Ever tried it? Don’t. Then, there was the option of cement, and the possibility to make it look like paved stones. It does look nice but I was worried it would be slippery when wet, and the idea of having my whole yard paved seemed a little too urban-living for me.

Our last reasonable option and final choice was artificial grass. Again, living in the San Diego area makes shopping for this quite a challenge, considering the large quantity of suppliers available. So we looked around on the internet, including Kudzu (I like to use it to quickly obtain customer reviews), saved the many flyers and promotions we got in the mail, and did our homework.

Our ultimate pick was a company called San Diego Turf. Why this one above all others? Many factors influenced us, but mostly the fact that the company has little overhead and can afford to sell the materials at a lower price than other suppliers, some of which are franchises of larger companies. On top of that, the customer service was excellent. While other companies didn’t seem too eager to chase our order (I don’t guess it – who doesn’t want to capture business opportunities in a down economy?), San Diego Turf stayed on top of our request and made the purchasing experience easy. The owner advised us on the best lawn type to meet our individual needs and explained what it took to prep the ground. Finally, it only took one week between the day we got the quote and the day we got the lawn installed (8-hour job). Talk about instant gratification!

Yard with artificial grass

So what does our yard look like today? Drum roll… Glance to the right! Pretty nice, huh? We now have 750 square feet of artificial grass, a smaller bank account, and a new appreciation for our backyard! How good did it feel to look at this new lawn? One word: irresistible! I personally felt the strong urge to go out and literally roll all over our new green yard, just like a young puppy who has been kept inside for too long. You may think I’m nuts, but I’m not the only one to felt that way in our household. When my kids caught sight of this new lawn for the first time, they shrieked with joy, took off their shoes and socks in seconds and leaped out of the patio door to run around the yard in continuous circles. I guess artificial grass will do that to you! Hmm, I thought that stuff didn’t emit any toxic fumes?

Here’s what we learned through this whole process:

  • Choose what will work best for your family, in the short and long term. This is a costly decision and you don’t want to have to regret it.
  • Artificial grass doesn’t look artificial. Recent materials actually look very realistic. There are many types of materials available and it’s a good idea to do your research and pick what will work best for you (color, length, texture, kid or pet friendly, etc)
  • The right choice of artificial grass feels very soft and pleasant to walk on, even barefoot. It also apparently helps to cushion the kids’ falls (no crying so far!).
  • Artificial grass gets quite hot in the baking sun, but will cool down almost instantly when it gets in the shade.
  • Apparently it’s not a water-free solution, as it’s advised to hose it down once in a while to wash off any dirt (if you don’t get any rain for several months in a row like us).
  • I suggest you pick a provider who will value your business and offers a great warranty not only on material but also on labor.

Now, I’d write more about our new lawn, but I hear it calling me… Arf!

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