The Johanson Family Pre-Deployment Fun Tour 2014 has begun! Here’s our attempt to pack half a year’s worth of family time into Dave’s one week off work.

We started by taking the big kids camping on Palomar Mountain. (My mom stayed with Susanna, who’s two. We’d already taken Nora and Soren camping by the time they were two, but we are wiser now. My memories of chasing a toddling 16-month-old Soren all over a campground in Missouri while a gang of drunk, bearded biker dudes swore and cursed about 10 feet away …. and then trying to get little Soren to fall asleep in the tent, feeling his hot breath on my eyeballs for hours and hours while he repeated, “HI. HI. HI” in my face and I pretended to be asleep …. have finally scared me straight).

We drove east from San Diego, gradually gaining altitude past wildfire-charred hillsides and through Indian reservations (the La Jolla and Luiseno bands) on our way east.


We stayed at Doane Valley Campground, named for an 1880s pioneer named George Doane who composed poetry — all of it, apparently, about the many “school marms” he had courted and been rejected by.

(One of his little ditties was posted on a placard — something like “I like apples and clams, But what really moves my soul are the school ma’ams.”)

Kids, can you feel the rejected spirit of George Doane in this here meadow? He is among us still, wooing the “school ma’ms.”


Another, more upstanding local from the days of yore was an escaped slave named Nathan Harrison, who lived as a free man in the valley, raising hay and hogs, from the 1880s onward, and was thought to have been 101 when he died. I am glad he got a good, long time as a free man.

We pitched our tent and went for a walk around the pond, where bullfrogs croaked and mama ducks settled in with their babies.

Don’t let us bother you, mama


 Hot dog time!IMG_5758



Don’t bother me. I’m serious about mallows


It was a nice, warm night, and other than a toddler who threw a mega-fit downrange around 11:30 p.m. (not our kid, so who cares!) , it was a peaceful one. Come morning, we had hot coffee over the fire


and the kids went nuts over those little boxes of cereal you can buy in 10-packs at the grocery store, which we only get when we go camping. They were perhaps more excited about the little boxes of sugary, non-organic cereal than they were about any other part of the camping trip. All evening they’d talked about which ones they’d choose, swapping and bartering (“If I get the Frosted Flakes then you can have the Corn Pops. But if you get the Froot Loops then I want the Cocoa Krispies”…) After they’d cherry-picked the selection, Dave and I were left with the handful of healthful cereals they’d passed over. “What do you think would happen,” Dave mused, “if I mixed the Corn Flakes with the Special K?”

“Knock yourself out,” I said.

He shrugged and grinned. “You only live once.”

Life is short. Enjoy your cereal.


 And if you’ve got it, flaunt it — in the case of Soren’s shorts-and-knee-socks combo. Kid’s got some serious gams.

Our morning’s adventures took us to the Palomar Fire Tower, built in the 1930s. Lookouts here spotted two of the recent San Diego wildfires first.


 Now that’s a hat


 The charming interior, with original stove and fixtures


This is where the lookouts sleep





From there we checked out the Palomar Observatory — its 200-inch Hale Telescope was the largest in the world until 1993. It’s responsible for the discovery of quasars and gave scientists the first direct evidence of stars in distant galaxies.


Here’s what it looks like at night, when it’s open. Amazing! (This was a picture on the wall —  no visitors, only scientists, after 4 p.m.)


Well, what more could you ask for in a weekend (ducklings, and telescopes, and hiking, and the cereal selection of our dreams)? It was time to head home. The closest restaurant was a crunchy-but-hip, vegetarian biker-stop, where we had fried-egg sandwiches and meatless tacos slathered with avocado and sour cream. It was very good!

Fortified, Dave was ready to come to the aid of some folks whose VW bug had fritzed out on the switchbacks.


Dave rallied another young, able-bodied bystander and they helped the driver and his son push the car, at a good clip, up the steep hill. Then the driver and his family (which, I almost forgot to mention! included a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever — one for my list!) hopped in.

“I hope they can get the car going!” the kids said. A mile or so down the road, our own kids buckled in and finally underway, the Bug zoomed by us, its family waving as they passed.

I’m thankful for this week of compressed family time. Camping was great, and I have photos to show the kids a few months down the road. And I can look back on this weekend myself, if the next few months get a little slow — I can think about the fresh smell of the pine needles around our camp site, and looking down from the top of the fire tower with the kids, and Dave and Soren playing catch in the parking lot, and the kids’ joy over their silly little boxes of cereal — and hopefully it will keep me from adopting the spirit of poor, lonely George Doane, with his limericks about “school ma’ams,” because I really don’t think a foray into that genre will help me with my own writing goals. (“I like toast and I like jam, But what I really miss is my Navy man.” No. If it comes to that, someone, please, stage an intervention.)


All posts about our family’s experience with deployment are collected in Our Deployment Journal.