Here is my final report of our trip. Here is the link to the photo album for those of you without time to read another rambling travelogue. For my own sake, I am grateful to have it all recorded. For those of you who have read along, it means so much that you care so much about me. I really love my blogging friends and thrill to your kind comments. Thank you. You deserve a prize for reading these vacation entries.
So where were we...Wednesday night, Johnathan flew in and joined us in the west after finishing up school and work for the week. It was good to have everyone together.
Thursday was an everything day, meaning that we tried to do just about everything and pretty well succeeded. Here are the lights, both high and low:
Early Morning: I was PMS-ing so badly and feeling the beginnings of really bad hayfever or something, that I almost just stayed home for the day. Everyone and everything was annoying to me. Fortunately, Eric, with his usual patience of Job, rolled his eyes, told me to snap out of it, and I went along. I was glad in the end.
Morning: A delightful visit to the Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Factory, headquartered right in Fairfield. It is pretty hard to be grumpy in a jelly bean factory, so my mood lifted considerably. Favorites were seeing the actual factory floor, wearing factory hats and seeing the jelly bean mosaics that grace the walls of the facility. Add to that an awesome candy store and it was a great morning.
Midday: We headed toward San Francisco to explore the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate National Recreational Area, including the Marin Headlands and maybe Stinson Beach. We pulled off the highway in Berkeley (the dodgy end, apparently) to look for lunch around 12:30, proceeded to lose sight of the fast food restaurant and in process of turning around, flattened the tire of the rental car. Poor Eric, he felt so badly, but he ended up being the hero of the day because he never lost his cool. So, right there in the 'hood, with many diverse (make your own air quotes here) and interesting people walking by and making comments, and me being just a teeny tiny bit nervous about my children standing around on the sidewalk, Eric and the boys changed the tire, we called the car-rental company, then found a friendly neighborhood Target in which I knew there would be a decent bathroom, and finally took the rental car down to the Oakland airport to exchange it for a new vehicle. In the end, other than the time it took, it was pretty hassle-free, and plus it took us right past an In-and-Out Burger, another California place, and we got to have legendary burgers for lunch. They were pretty good, actually. We got done with all that around 3:30. Not quite how we planned on spending the afternoon, but the next part makes up for it.
Late afternoon: Around 4 or so, we made it to the city and drove down Steiner Street (all the Painted Lady Victorian houses) and down some very steep SF hills to the bridge. We missed Lombard Street (the famous "steepest street") but everyone seems to have survived that omission. We got to the SF side parking and bridge observation area around 4 pm and the weather was spectacular-clear skies, brisk temps, windy, just what I'd imagined. The boys wanted to walk across to the observation area on the Marin side, which sparked the idea for all of us to walk across and back. Even though I am really uncomfortable with heights, I figured I would regret it if I just drove across in 5 minutes rather than really experiencing the bridge-feeling the wind on my face, seeing the size and scale of the cables, seeing the bay from that vantage point, imagining rogue gusts of wind carrying my children over the side, etc. So, off we went. Eric doesn't love heights either, so we were holding hands more tightly than we have in a very long time. If I weren't so terrified, it might have been romantic.
Evening: After crossing the bridge in the car and heading north, we explored the beautiful Marin Headlands on the other side. The views from the top were amazing-bay and city on one side and wide open ocean on the other. While driving through the park, we saw a coyote by the side of the road, followed by a crane in the middle of the road a little further along. We also saw a lighthouse, more redwoods in Muir Woods and an amazing moonrise over the hills. I know why people love living in California. There is something lovely to look at almost everywhere one turns.
I woke up feeling really rotten on Friday, so Eric was the fun dad and took the kids to the local arcade for games, laser tag, go-karts, etc, while Alex and I ran a few errands and got things ready for Easter dinner. It was good to have another flop day even though we missed our planned full day in San Francisco. Everyone seemed okay with the decision. The cable cars will be there another time. We had seen so much already, that it was nice to focus on just spending time with my brother and his family. After all, that was part of why we came out.
Saturday, Eric and my brother took the boys up to Lake Tahoe. Phil, Johnathan and Sam snowboarded at Squaw Valley while Eric and Evan drove all around the lake and explored that beautiful area. I dyed eggs with Sara and Luc while Alex took care of a miserably sick Olivia.
Sunday was a lovely warm Easter, with all that makes that day special-church, traditions, good food and family. It was nice to be there to celebrate. We combined traditions and had a really good time. Livvy was still sick, but she is cute and affectionate and funny as all get out, even when she is sick. We capped off the evening with a delicious carrot cake to honor the bunny's efforts and started the process of packing up for the trip home.
I kept thinking on Sunday how blessed I am in my family. My brothers have married women that I count as my sisters and friends-I just love being with all three of my sisters-in-law. Alex and I had so much fun together-even though we descended on her home life for a solid week, there was only fun and cooperation and pleasant times.
Add to that sweet satisfaction the most excellent news we received on Sunday afternoon that my youngest brother is engaged. I am so pleased for him. He is almost 29 and has waited patiently for marriage to come to him, living a really good life in the meantime, and his happiness is truly my happiness. This is he and I this past Christmas.
As we drove to the airport on Monday, we were rewarded with the quintessential view of San Francisco-the fog had rolled in and completely enveloped the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. There was no photo op, but it was ethereally beautiful and was the perfect final image for me to remember our trip by. What a blessing it has been to have the means and the time to explore and relax on our own terms, to spend time as a family and feel like this vacation accomplished what a vacation is supposed to accomplish-I feel like we got closer as a family and strengthened our ties to each other with positive shared memories. We didn't see everything, but who ever could? What we did see was wonderful and exciting and worthwhile. I'm a little tired due to getting home this morning around 2:30 am, but I slept most of the morning after seminary and am feeling pretty normal. Things are unpacked, the kids got an extra day off school due to the late arrival, the laundry is almost done, and we've sort of eased back into real life pretty well.
Now I can spend hours looking at all my pictures-what fun that will be!