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Palomar Mountain Camping with Cub Scouts

Large granite boulders at the Palomar Observatory Campground where the cub scouts camped.
Large granite boulders at the Palomar Observatory Campground where the cub scouts camped.

Boulder pile

A pile of boulders in the campground was the highlight of a Palomar Mountain Cub Scout camping trip.  A visit to the observatory and walking about some gorgeous forest already made it a great event.  The kids spent hours inventing all kinds of things to do.  They ran, they climbed, they built, they organized themselves, they jumped, they threw, they danced, they even ate.  This was despite all kinds of other fun things planned for them, like making Halloween creatures and walking around the mountain, to whittling and axe and knife throwing.  Safely, no fingers lost or even nicked.  We did lose a knife in the leaves or branches somewhere.  Someday an archeologist will find it.

Large granite boulders at the Palomar Campground where the cub scouts camped.
Large granite boulders the Cub Scouts played on while Palomar Mountain Camping.

Palomar Mountain Observatory Campground

While Palomar Mountain was the backdrop, it doesn’t look that much different from other camping spots we’ve visited.  The bathrooms are primitive, but maybe slightly nicer than other campgrounds we’ve visited.  It’s still sleeping in a tent on the ground, which isn’t that bad if you layer your mats properly (crate-style on top of inflatable).  The camp-created food is fairly simple, but quite tasty.  To allow everyone to leave faster, we canceled breakfast on Sunday so we only had camp-stove coffee, which was still better than the diner where we eventually ate.

My favorite cub scout building something behind this massive rock.
My favorite cub scout building something behind this massive rock.

Independence for kids

Perhaps the boulder pile’s appeal was the independence it gave the kids.  The adults shooed the kids away from the pile during meals and after dusk, but otherwise the kids could do mostly what they wanted.  In the rocks, there was no constructed activity and little adult guidance.  The kids were essentially on their own while still closely watched by the adults.  The scouts were so engaged, the adults didn’t go forward with some of the additional activities originally planned.  


Letting kids learn despite the risk

Usually, the parents manage the scouts closely to keep them occupied and safe.  Of course, parents keep track of their kids in an effort to bring them whole and safe to adulthood.  And the boulders did create risk: someone could’ve fallen and even broken bones.  There were scrapes and splinters. It was an opportunity to let them just be themselves and find their own organization.  As important as getting the kids safely to adulthood is letting them figure out what person they are and what they are able to do.  Letting them be their own people in their own society teaches them things they can’t learn anywhere else.  That is worth the risk of a broken bone.

Ily and Max singing on the hill.
Ily and Max making silly.

Unmanaged time

The spontaneous exuberance of the kids when left to their own devices is a benefit of unmanaged time.  It’s tough to do regularly, so it’s great when we can!

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County Fair fun for kids

Little girl is helped from the carousel by her mother.
Little boy shooting hoops at the county fair.
The county fair fun includes games that are addictive and hard to win. This basketball game is no exception.

County fair fun and games

“I want to play  basketball! It’s my sport!  I can do it.  It’s easy!  Not sure why I keep missing… I just need to make a basket.”

”I want a snack.  Can I have popcorn?  Is there chocolate?  I really like chocolate.  Look — chocolate cookies!  With sprinkles”

”They have Star Wars hats!  And Pokémon!”

“Can I get a princess cape?  Or a purse?  Maybe a backpack.  It goes with my earmuffs and my shoes.”

The county fair fun has a beautifully detailed and atmospheric carousel.
The county fair fun includes a beautifully detailed and atmospheric carousel.

What to ride at the county fair

”The cars are my favorite. Will you go with me?  Or the train.  That’s my favorite too.  Look! The carousel — I love the horses.  Maybe there’s a unicorn.  If there’s a unicorn, I want to ride it!”

“What ride can I ride?  Is there a maze?  Maybe a slide.  I don’t know if I like the slide.  My leg hurts from the slide last time.  What’s that spinning ride?  Is it scary?  I don’t know what ride I want to go on.  Not the rollercoaster.  That looks too scary.  I didn’t like the Ferris wheel last time.  Oh I can’t decide.  Definitely not the roller coaster.”

Little girl is helped from the carousel by her mother after a county fair fun ride.
After riding the carousel, it is time to leave to the immediate requests to “do it again.”

”I want to do the bungy jumpie.  There’s the bungy jumpy!  We can wait!”

“I could ride the cat.  Or the leopard.  There’s even a dragon.  It doesn’t go up and down though.  It’s better when it goes up and down.  The horse with the flag!  Or the roses!”


"Unicorn popcorn": multicolored candy popcorn frozen by nitroglycerin.
The theme at the county fair was candy and the unique food items were unicorn themed. This was “unicorn popcorn”: multicolored candy popcorn frozen by nitroglycerin.

Nitro popcorn

“I see rainbow-colored popcorn!  Is it on fire?  It’s smoking!  Why does the popcorn do that?”

”Unicorn popcorn?  Do unicorns eat popcorn?”

”Can we buy a unicorn?  I always wanted a unicorn.  Or an otter.”

”Is it almost lunchtime?  Are we eating here?  I want to eat here.  The popcorn was really good.  I’m hungry.  Maybe we can get a snack? I like hot dogs.  Can we get strawberries?  And some candy.  Unicorn candy to go with the unicorn popcorn!”

”I want a hamburger.  No cheese.  No mustard or onions or pickles or tomatoes.  I don’t want any salad.  Strawberries are good. Or pears. Or watermelon.  But not that other melon.  I like oranges and apples too.  Can you cut them up?”

A slice of county fair fun for kids: enjoying the carousel in altered color.
A slice of county fair fun for kids: enjoying the carousel in altered color.
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Conversations between Kids on the Swings

Flying high on the swings.
Conversations between kids while chatting and twisting the swings.
Kids chatting and twisting the swings.

Playground conversations between kids captured in kid-attracting sunlit candy tones.

Recent conversations between kids while playing at the park.

“Is that a dog?  I like dogs.  But I like cats better.  Especially our cat.  He’s so cute!”

“I think it is a dog.  Maybe it’s a coyote.  Do you think it’s a coyote?  Don’t they look like dogs?”

“Maybe it’s a horse.  We see lots of horses.”

“It’s because of the stables.”

“I like the trails and the hills.  Mostly the flowers.  And the butterflies.”

“I found some cool rocks.  Think we can polish them?  Also, I have a really good stick.  I want to save it but not inside.  Do coyotes like sticks as much as dogs do?”


Conversations between kids while also teaching how to twist the swings.
Conversations between Kids while also teaching how to twist the swings.

Discussing the best swinger

“I’m the champion swing twister in my school.  In my class at least.  This is how I do it.  You have to twist like this and then it goes for a really long time.”

“I like twisting too.  The swings on our playground are different and don’t twist as well.  Matthew twisted himself into the swings and fell down and didn’t even cry.  Then we had to go back inside so I didn’t try it and then I collected sand toys later.”

“Usually this works for a really long time.  I think these swings are different. But I still like swinging.  And the trails.  Maybe we can go to the pool later.  And have some ice cream.  We still have ice cream, right?  Ice cream is my favorite dessert.”

Conversations between kids: how many ways to use the swings?
More conversations between kids: how many ways to use the swings?

Conversations about Numbers and dogs

“I’m good at lots of things at school.  I’m really good at reading but my favorite subject is math.”
“Yeah, me too.  I’m good at math.  1 plus 4 is …. 5.  3 plus 5 is … 7.  No, wait — it’s 8.”

“Yeah well, I can multiply.  I like multiplying by 5.  It’s really easy.”

“I haven’t learned that yet.  But I can draw cats really well.  Especially smiling cats.  They like jumping.  And sleeping.”

“I still think we should get a dog.  I would walk it every day.  Maybe twice a day.  Or some fish.  Could we take the dog to the pool?  Dogs like to swim?  I’m a really good swimmer.  I’m faster than Josh.  Sometimes I run faster than he does too.  And I can build ninjas with legos better.  And faster.  Maybe we could build a city later.  And a car and an airplane.  Something cool that looks like a robot.”

“I’ll make a kitty to ride in the car.  Who is purple and can drive.”


Flying high on the swings.
Flying high on the swings.

Gatorade and Popsicles

“I’m higher than the house!  Higher than the whole world!”

“When do we go home?  It’s hot and I want to read my book.”

“I’m so high I’m in the sky!”

“I’m tired of drinking water.  Can I have some Gatorade when we get home?  I hope we have the orange kind.”

“I’m too high!  I need to get down!”

“That’s my favorite Gatorade.  The blue kind.  Also blue Popsicles.  No actually, the orange ones.”

“Thanks for getting me down.  I love swinging so high.  I was so high I could see the clouds and the bees.”

“Maybe I’ll have a blue Popsicle and orange Gatorade.”

“I like pink Gatorade.  No, pink lemolade.  Do we have lemolade?”

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Cooking with Sand is Serious Business

Kids sorting the tools for cooking and building with sand.
Kids cooking with sand and building sand structures on the beach.
Kids cooking with sand and building sand structures on the beach.

How to cook with sand

The business of cooking with sand is serious, especially when done on the beach.  It involves various textures of sand (wet, dry, part wet, really really wet, not so wet, was wet a few minutes ago).  Sometimes, it also needs some water and a variety of containers.  Container color is important and can show what ingredient goes in it.  The red one holds pepper; yellow, salt; green either thyme or basil depending on the dish and the smaller ones contain sugar, maple syrup and ketchup.  The order of adding ingredients also makes a difference, especially considering the texture of sand (see previous list).  Wet on dry tends to make soup while dry on wet is more likely a cake.  The actual result is always at the discretion of the chef, of course.

Kids sorting the tools for building and cooking with sand.
Kids sorting the tools for building and cooking with sand.

Keeping things running

Keeping track of all the materials and tools required constant attention and was a full-time job for at least one of the kids.  Particularly the water.  One child fetched water regularly if there wasn’t an adult doing it.  This was quite exhausting, since water gets heavy the further from the waves it gets.  Even lightening with spillage, the beach is wide and there was a ways to go before reaching the kitchen.


A bit of shade in the beach sun.
A bit of shade in the beach sun.

Rest in the Shade

After a long day building and cooking, it was time for a drink of cool water and a break from the summer sun in the shade.  The kids took periodic breaks as the day became quite warm.  It was hot even, further away from the water.  A snack was very welcome too, especially one that was cool and nicely frozen.  It’s too bad their creations weren’t edible or they could’ve designed their own treats!


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Buda Palace views

Kids enthralled by the Buda Palace views from the plaza.
Kids enthralled by the Buda Palace views from the plaza.

Buda Palace Views

The kids were fascinated by the Buda Palace views of the Danube River from the hillside in the oldest part of Budapest.  This included anyone else visiting as well, some from around the world.  It was honestly hard to look away.  Most significantly, the river was beautiful and there were views of a variety of buildings from many eras.  An expert could’ve created an architectural history lesson easily from where we were standing.

We also had other great views such as the cafes down one terrace and the rest of the castle structure wrapped around the hill studded periodically with statues.  Part of this view included the Citadel at the peak of the hill. The funicular was just below like an up-hill train. We also saw a changing of the guard and several mounted groups ride by.  Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica were prominent on the Pest side of the river.


Variety in the Rebuilding

As we walked around Buda Palace, we entered a courtyard of the palace showing the layers of rebuilding over its history in the various materials.  This variety starts with the earliest, roughest Gothic stone, transitions to Renaissance brick, then baroque-style recent at the highest point.  Also, there are modern rust-textured metal stairs from the last few years.  It looked like there were several areas under construction adding even more new things to see in the future.


Buda Palace viewed in a "postcard" style.

Buda Palace viewed in a “postcard” style.

Postcard views

This is a postcard view of the palace from the Elizabeth Bridge.  It is a gorgeous walk across any of the bridges from the relatively “newer” Pest side to the older Buda side.  The views are of boats, historical buildings and hillsides on the Buda side of the city.  It is also wonderfully breezy down the river giving a break from the summer heat.

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Playing in the water

Two little girls play together in the water
Two little girls play together in the water

The kids spend a lot of time playing in the water whenever we are at the beach.  Shade is also great when we have it.  The sand gets really HOT so the feet don’t like to spend a lot of time in it.  The sand doesn’t look very dark, but apparently it is dark enough to soak up some sun.  This makes the sand feel like a fresh-from-the-oven cookie sheet.  Which is actually kind of nice in small doses to warm up from the cold water.  In late summer, the water is almost a perfect temperature for those not expecting tropical temperatures and we played in it for hours.

At Del Mar Beach, the waves are reliable and can have some serious push — and pull– behind them.  The surfers and boogie boarders love this of course, but it is also great for the body boarders. Just bouncing around in the water is great fun while also a nice workout.  Even standing in the waves is some work, although not too hard.  This makes it feel like you did something active even without completing a “real” workout.

Two boogie boarders seek the perfect wave playing in the water.
Two boogie boarders seek the perfect wave playing in the water.
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Cub Scout Beach Day

Colorful canopy and sand looking toward the ocean.
Colorful canopy and sand looking toward the ocean.

Cub Scout Beach Day

The Cub Scout beach day was an afternoon at the beach cooking, eating and playing.  It was a rather hot day and the shade of a brightly-colored umbrella was a good resting and daydreaming spot.  The afternoon is not the usual time we are at the beach, but anytime is good beach time.  Normally, we go in the morning: less crowding and less heat.  This means less sunscreen and shade required.  This particular day was especially warm, unusual for the California coast.

Bech day: people strolling past a variety of beach canopies.
People strolling past a variety of beach canopies.

Beach culture

We shared this gorgeous day with what felt like half the population of the town.  While this was certainly not the busiest beach we’ve visited lately, we saw a good bit of human traffic that day.  Although parking was scarce, and the taco stand line was long, sand space was still plentiful and the waves were uncrowded.  The cabana rentals seemed to be a brisk business as they were all full.  

There was a good-sized private event also in the afternoon.  Many people stood line at a food truck waiting for what looked and smelled like tasty barbecue.  There was also volleyball, along with various other ball and disc throwing.  Walking around required occasionally dodging although a random missile.  This was in addition to the usual surfing, sunning and sand building also going on so it was busy.  Fortunately, the sun was never-ending and there was enough beach and waves for all.  It also made for something else to watch besides the water.

Daydreaming on a hot day on the hot sand.
Daydreaming on a hot day on the hot sand.

Kid culture

The kids spent the day running about in small groups playing in the sand and water, mixed with daydreaming and rest.  Even their boundless energy flagged after a while in the hot sun.  While they dashed about, they created their own mini-culture. While the older boys usually decided the activities, they changed leadership as needed by the task.  They often would break into smaller groups, then reform into larger ones.  These had different kids influencing the activities, even the younger ones.  Each time we gather them together, they continue to build their communication and persuasion skills.  While the outdoor skills may be the most obvious ones the kids gain, it’s these less easily defined ones that may be the greatest thing they learn.