Wednesday, August 11
We’ve been back in California for 5 days now, and it’s like we’ve never been away. The girls have happily reclaimed their house, their rooms, their toys, their friends – how do they manage to slot themselves so easily back into their old lives? They never seem to need any time to adjust, it was the same both in the UK and in Germany this summer. I, on the other hand, feel like a fish out of water, and the jetlag doesn’t help. It’s such a mix of emotions for me: I can barely look at my holiday photos without welling up and desperately wanting to ring all my friends and family, but I’m also happy to be back, after 6 weeks away. I guess it’ll take me a while to feel normal again, and maybe I just won’t ever feel normal again, I just have to accept that as a possibility. It surprised me how my heart soared, and how the butterflies in my stomach did a happy jig when the taxi turned into our road – this has really become home. And – not that I want to sound melodramatic, or make it sound worse than it is – I now know that I will probably never feel really complete anymore, wherever I am. When I lived in the UK, part of me always missed Germany, or maybe part of me always stayed there, and whenever I went back to Germany, part of me felt like it should be in the UK. And now I’ve added another dimension to this dilemma – part of me will always stay in California, and wherever we’ll go next, I will leave part of me behind. But maybe this is a good thing, too, a truly global existence! I just wonder what will happen to my soul when I die… will parts of me be spread all over the world? Hm, I suppose I could philosophise about that for hours… but I might need some more wine for that.
Oh, and while we were away, the hummingbirds, or H-birds, as E calls them, have discovered our feeder – hooray!


Today, we added another experience to our tour of American life. We went to a Country Club. There was a big charity horse show nearby, on the grounds of a country club in one of the most affluent areas of the peninsula (there are quite a number of country clubs around here, and apparently this is what you aspire to belong to when you live here). I asked our neighbours, whose daughter also likes horse riding, to come with us, and as it happened, they are members of said country club and took us with them. Very very sophisticated, very grand, very dignified, and totally not my thing. And I’ve never seen so many lap dogs in handbags, it was straight out of the gossip pages of a celebrity magazine! Proper Californian style!!! Now I have to say that our neighbour is not really like that, she’s quite down to earth, and I really like her. It seems that they just literally grew up with this sort of set up. Maybe it’s something you have to be born into. In any case, it’s just another thing that I know I’ll never get used to.

Thursday, August 12
SHOOTING STARS IN GOLD COUNTRY

Camping!!! I’m writing this, sat by a fire lit by the fair boyscout hands of my lovely, happy man, in the Californian, well, not wilderness, but pretty much outback, and drinking some ok local wine called “Simply Red”. The girls are in the tent, in their sleeping bags, chatting and waiting for it to turn really dark so they can come out again and watch the stars. It’s very peaceful, and still very warm, the temperatures during the day reached 40 Celsius! It feels like we’re in the middle of nowhere, this is gold rush country, and it feels very remote. Next time we’ll venture further, to Yosemite, which is only another couple of hours further east. We didn’t get to our dusty campsite till early afternoon, and spent most of the afternoon putting the tent up and wandering around being too hot. Unfortunately the pool at the campsite looked way too green and fungus-inducing to jump in, much to the disappointment of the girls, but staying up late and watching the stars more than made up for it.

And now I just have to sit and watch the stars – the sky looks amazing. I need a book about stars and constellations. The girls, having been happily chatting away, telling each other bedtime stories, have now gone quiet, it is so peaceful! And it’s the middle of August, which is always a great time for shooting stars….

Friday, August 13
MORE BIG TREES
Wow, what a gorgeous day! We went to see some more Sequoia woods, this time the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, in Arnold, California. You’ve got to love the Americans, where else would you find road signs that say “Big Trees, 25 miles”? It was amazing. Again, totally mind-blowing to walk through woods filled with trees that are up to 3,000 years old. We walked for an hour, and learnt a lot.



And then came the caves…. Calaveras County is gold country, this is where the gold rush happened, and there are lots of mines and caves in the area, some of which are open for visitors like us. And of course we had to book a cave tour, down into the “Moaning Cave”. I’d kind of forgotten how I don’t really get on with enclosed spaces, narrow passages, darkness, lots of other people in confined spaces… until we got down the steep steps, in one long line of people. And all of a sudden I could feel the panic developing, started sweating and feeling dizzy. All I thought was that I had to get out, and quick, but of course stood there with my girls and knew I couldn’t. And I managed to calm down again and go down even further into the cave, and to not panic when all the lights went out and it was pitch black… what a horrible, horrible experience, but I’m quite proud of myself that I did it. My whole body kept shaking for a good half hour after we got out. I don’t think I’ll try that again. Or maybe pot-holing, now there’s a thought… S, of course, just kept shaking his head, a big smirk on his face, and not an ounce of understanding (blokes!).
To get over this gruelling experience, we pulled in for some wine tasting along the way, which was fab, and definitely needs some more dedication – preferably with a designated driver, and without children! We now have some very fine bottles in our possession, but knowing the Cooks, they won’t last very long!

The evening was spent star-gazing again, and E got sooo excited when she spotted her very first shooting star (Oh, and I’d got a book that day, which E studied with her dad all afternoon!).

Saturday, August 14
BABYSITTER EDUCATION
My man and I are going out on Monday, to a very nice concert venue, the Mountain Winery, not far from us (http://www.mountainwinery.com). It’s more of an “Oldie” kind of venue, they have gigs like Crowded House, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, Chris Isaak…. And we’re going to see Billy Idol, while sipping wine in a very civilised manner. When I booked the babysitter, she asked where we were going. I had to explain who Billy Idol was…. Oh dear, it’s happening, I’m getting old. When I looked at her, incredulously, and explained that he was very big in the 80s and early 90s, she just said: “Cool. I love the 80s.” Hrmmph. See?!

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