A friend of ours teaches a twice-weekly Zumba class, and Pepper decided to go. She asked if I wanted to, and I told her absolutely not. Not only do I dislike exercise in general, I especially dislike exercise where I have to guess what the instructor is going to do, attempt to emulate it, and end up looking like an uncoordinated idiot.

So she headed to class, and I headed to the street. I’m in training (so to speak) for an upcoming 5k run, so I figured I should at least get in some running time. It was a little after eight in the morning, but already above 90 degrees. I pounded the sidewalks for a few miles, sweating profusely, and went over to the Zumba class to get a ride back home.

When I arrived, they were still Zumba-ing. I waited for a few minutes but they showed no sign of stopping, so I took a deep breath and walked into the gym. I slid into the back– where Pepper happened to be as well– and finished out the last ten minutes of class. Sure enough, I felt like an idiot, but it was funny how all the women (and they were all women) congratulated me on joining them. I guess they don’t get a lot of guys in there. Or they felt so sorry for me they wanted to salvage what was left of my self-esteem.

Here we are afterward.

Next time I think I’ll just run the rest of the way home…

Sand dunes

Here in the mission field, we’re part of a “zone”, which is a subdivision of the mission area itself. For the San Diego Mission, we’re in Zone 8, which is basically like District 12 from the Hunger Games: we’re way the heck out in the desert, far from the center of the mission and all the activity in San Diego. But the nice thing is that we’re part of a little mission family here. It’s just us and five pairs of dedicated, hard-working young missionaries.

Every Monday is “preparation day” (aka “P-day”) when the younger missionaries can take care of things like shopping, laundry, and having some fun. It’s a nice break from their daily work of walking the streets to find and teach people. Yesterday in the group chat, there was talk of going to the Imperial Sand Dunes for P-day. We all decided to go, even though it meant leaving our apartment at four in the morning so we’d be there by sunrise. We carpooled in the mission van out to the Dunes, arriving a little before the sun peeked above the horizon.

We had a couple of snowboards, so we took turns surfing the dunes. The sand was steep and very, very fine, so it was perfect for riding.

As the sun rose, it lit up the dunes in beautiful shades of orange and gold.

Here’s our little family:

They’re a great group, and we’re thrilled to be able to hang out with them on desert adventures like this.

Hodad’s redux

We went back to Hodad’s. But this time, it wasn’t the downtown location; it was the original restaurant in Ocean Beach.

We were chatting with friends the other day and mentioned we’d been to Ocean Beach before, and they said something like “Yeah, O.B. has kind of a vibe about it.” That’s for sure. It’s hard to describe, but there’s definitely a vibe. And Hodad’s fits right in.

For the first time in all the years we’ve been here, we managed to score a seat in the van! If you don’t know, it’s kind of a big deal.

After a delicious (and messy!) dinner, we decided not to get one of their legendary shakes just yet. We’d visit the beach for a bit, and then pick one up on our way out of town. We headed to the beach to walk the sand and watch the surfers for a while.

An hour or so later, when we walked back to Hodad’s, the line went out the door into the street. Although their shakes truly are the stuff of legend, we didn’t want to wait another hour to have one. Until next time, Hodad’s!


The Scripps Aquarium, in addition to having a giant shark head for photos, has some sea creatures as well. We wandered the aquarium for a few hours admiring all the tanks. The whole place is very dimly lit, so it’s difficult to get good photos. Here are a few we took.

Jellyfish are pretty cool! This one glows under ultraviolet light.

I don’t remember what this guy is called, but he’s impressive.

And it’s always fun to see all the colors in a coral reef.

Overall, we enjoyed the tour, but we agreed it wasn’t worth the price of admission. We put it firmly in the category of “I’m glad we went, but we don’t need to go again.”

Just like our kids

We were in San Diego again, and decided to visit the Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla. While we were walking around, we saw a big shark sculpture (if you can call it that) and remembered that we’d taken a picture of Alex and Kyra in the shark a long time ago. We posed and had a random tourist snap our photo.

Unfortunately we’d forgotten quite what the original photo looked like– we thought Kyra had been looking at Alex and laughing, but it was the other way around. Oh well. It was fun to revisit the shark twenty-two years later.

Our pricklies

Last weekend when we were in San Diego we enjoyed the Cactus and Succulent Show at Balboa Park, and bought some plants. Now we’ve potted them, and they’re enjoying their new life in our little casita.

These two really like baking in the hot sun, so we’re setting them outside during the day.

But this guy prefers a bit less light and heat, so he’s inside the window in the (relative) shade.

All three are small but fun reminders of our new desert life.

Sea level and the sea

Fun fact: El Centro is the largest lowest city in the United States. It’s official elevation is 42 feet below sea level, and some parts are even lower, as evidenced by this grain tower on the edge of town:

That mark is probably around 80 feet above ground level!

One advantage: there’s a lot more oxygen here than we’re used to breathing at 3,300 feet in Montana (and previous to that, 5,200 feet in Colorado). As I’ve been exercising, I’ve found I have a lot more energy. Sadly, I suspect my body will acclimate over time, and my red blood cell count will drop, but for now I’m enjoying my ability to run almost a mile without even breathing heavily.

Speaking of sea level, we haven’t been to the ocean for almost a year. I love the Pacific, and we were excited to see it again. We drove to San Diego and enjoyed an afternoon at Balboa Park, then headed over to Sunset Cliffs.

It was sort of comical– but mostly frustrating– to learn that the Sunset Cliffs are very cliffy, and don’t have an easy way down to the actual beach. We hiked for a bit, enjoying the view, and only on our way back to the car did we notice a long set of stairs in the distance. Oh well; that’ll be something for next time. For now, we had fun seeing our old friend the Pacific.

Prickly flowers

Today we had some business in San Diego, so we headed “across the mountains” (as they say here in “the valley”). It was 95 when we left at 9am, and 65 when we arrived in the city. What a gorgeous day to do some sightseeing! At the recommendation of many friends, we headed over to Balboa Park. It was a lot of fun to just wander the expansive area, looking at the plants and architecture, and talking to some of the street vendors.

There’s a large botanical area, and we were surprised at how many cacti are sprouting flowers. I guess this is the time of year for it. In almost every case, the pretty flowers were attached to very sharp and nasty-looking plants…

Pepper wanted to find out how sharp one of them was…

… and ended up with a tiny splinter from one of the spines. She could hardly see it, and didn’t have a way to dig it out of her finger, so she broke off a big spine from another cactus and used it as a needle to pry out the splinter. Clever girl.

Perhaps the most fun was at the annual Cactus and Succulent Show, which just happened to be today. There was a huge area where vendors were selling– you guessed it– cacti and succulent plants. Table after table was lined with hundreds of varieties of desert plants.

It was really amazing, and we ended up dropping sixty bucks on a bunch of little cacti for our apartment. Something to remember the desert by, even as we were basking in the (relatively) cool blue skies of San Diego.


San Diego has a dive restaurant called Hodad’s in Ocean Beach. We were introduced to it back in 2015, and fell in love with their burgers. They’re not only amazingly tasty, but they’re probably the messiest burgers I’ve ever eaten. In 2022, we returned with Kyra and enjoyed not only the burgers but the incredible shakes.

And today we were back. Since those days, they’ve opened a second restaurant downtown, and it just happened to be a short distance from our destination. We simply had to stop in.

The downtown restaurant was a little “nicer” than the original Ocean Beach location, so it didn’t have quite the dive feel to it. Also, there wasn’t a line of people going around the block waiting to get in, which was probably a good thing. The burgers are still awesome.

And the shakes? Still incredible.

It’s fun having favorite restaurants scattered around the country. With our stops at Maggiano’s and Cheba Hut back in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I felt like Hodad’s completed the trifecta. And I’m hoping we can find a few more spots to fall in love with.