Afloat amid routines

           A trip to Southern California to stay with the Cal Clan involves routines:  there are the domestic routines of family life, seasonal routines and the routines that the Californian Three remember and anticipate.
          At this point of the trip (a Monday morning) domestic routines dominate. It’s a ‘back to school’ day after the Thanksgiving break. Bodies out of beds at 0700; don’t dawdle over breakfast; get dressed, clean teeth, find shoes… just as in millions of school age homes world-wide. The difference here, of course, is in the detail. Whereas the Cheshire One always dresses in grey skirt, white polo shirt and red jumper for her Macclesfield community school, here Cal Guy Snr and Cal Gal choose any clothes for school.  Here car pool arrangements between neighbours (US: neighbors) get the children to their 920 student elementary school a couple of miles away and the only yellow school bus to be seen is for special school students. (Severe budget cuts got rid of school transport a number of years ago.)  Out Cal Guy Snr and Cal Gal lumbered at 8am, huge backpacks on their shoulders. Except for Wednesdays the school day will finish at 3.10, on Wednesdays it is an hour earlier… Today, Monday, there will be a swift turnaround after school before all three are driven to swimming lessons in Carlsbad. Other routines in the school week involve Cal Guy Snr’s band practice on Wednesdays and his after school Safety Patrol duty on Fridays.
           Then there are the seasonal routines: Fall was marked by leafy bunting in supermarkets, mock scarecrows outside houses

and pumpkins galore. On the day before Thanksgiving Cal Guy Jnr, with a neighbour,  made a turkey from a pine cone and coloured feathers for the doorstep.  Now, after Thanksgiving, it’s spend, spend, spend for the holiday season.  50% of the US population, it was reported, partook in the Black Friday sales frenzy last Friday. Mid-Friday afternoon, after a routine trip to San Diego’s Science Museum and Railroad Museum,

this family rolled into the much-loved Barnes and Noble bookstore (another regular routine) in Escondido.  Placards and banners shrieked about Black Friday Weekend discounts and staff were hard-pressed to answer queries and attend to sales. Sound adverts on the local news radio channel proclaim “ultimate discounts” while throughout the weekend shopping mall car parks have been crammed full with cars.
           Another post-Thanksgiving seasonal routine is house illumination. On Saturday morning three adults and Cal Gal went to a local DIY store to top up the stock of Christmas (sorry, US: “holiday”) lights. Greeters at the door smiled, offered vouchers and pointed out a table where there was free coffee, hot chocolate and doughnuts. In all stores staff offer help at the earliest opportunity and take great pleasure, it would seem, in guiding a customer to the location of even the most inexpensive item.  Ranging from absurd

to tasteful the holiday decorations were, like many things American, just downright bigger than British equivalents.  Cal Gal, mindful of her older brother’s interests, spotted a Yoda…

It probably took a dozen or more hours to sort, test, suspend and arrange the illuminations

but the effect is pretty dramatic.
            December 1st: “Freddie’s arrived – look!” someone called.

Overnight a tiny elf had taken his place high up on the mantelpiece. From there he watches and listens, reporting back to Santa every night on who’s been good and who’s been naughty, then reappearing next morning in a different place. He is magic, must not be touched – and Santa will collect him on the night of December 24th. So that’s another seasonal routine…
            When it comes to routines that occur with the Cal Three, well there are places to be revisited (specific museums, the Boomers small theme park and Crazy Golf course, the bookstore, a short trip on the local Sprinter commuter train), games to be played (Connect 4, Chutes and Ladders, Headbanz,charades, story-telling, chess), jigsaws to be done


and experiences to be shared (swimming lessons,

doing tricks on the park play equipment).

For sanity’s sake after the first morning a rule was made: no board games before 8am. Could you play Snakes (sorry, Chutes) and Ladders before 8 o’clock in the morning?!
            “Afloat” in the title…  It was on Sunday afternoon that a last pre-return to school treat occurred. The satnav was programmed (satnavs /electronics, that’s another story) for Boomers, which is west on Freeway 78, out towards Oceanside. The goal was to play mini golf and ride on the water boats.  Last year the golf was on the Pirates course, this year on the Fairyland course. All went well,

three players at some point managed a hole in one, and only thanks to Cal Gal’s lithe twisting and poking was a lost ball recovered from a pipe.
           Then to the boats. What fun it had looked last year. “Are you serious? Do you really want to go on them?” the Captain had questioned. Well – yes! But being able to steer a 60 foot narrow boat is of no advantage when it comes to steering a plastic circle operated by a push /pull /turn steering mechanism. Then when/if that is mastered, there is the water squirt button.
             “Granny, we won’t squirt each other, just other people,” Cal Guy Snr had suggested conspiratorially.

He didn’t keep his word, and all the other boaters were pretty accurate squirters too.
              So that’s how, as the sun went down on Sunday, Boatwif was once more afloat on a boat – and pretty wet too!

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