Emerging from Hibernation

It may seem as if we dropped off the face of the earth, but I can assure you that we have not.  After New Mexico (which I have yet not finished blogging about), we’ve been staying with friends and family to celebrate the holidays, escape the cold nights, and plot our next move.  We spent Thanksgiving in Colorado with Alan’s family, spent another week in Denver with our dear friend, Andrew, drove out to Michigan to visit with my family, and then have spent much of the last three months in New York with my parents (THANK YOU, MOM AND DAD!!!).  Between lots of grandparent time for Van, we also spent a couple of weeks down in the DC area to see friends and (drumroll) have spent some time house hunting and visiting friends in our intended new home of Western Massachusetts.  Yup, after traveling the country, we are winding up right where I used to live fifteen years ago.

For those of you following our journey offline, you know that we had put an offer in on a house that was accepted.  Unfortunately, the results of our inspection demonstrated that instead of buying a serious fixer upper, we would have been buying a tear down.  Back to the drawing board for us.  To make our house search easier and to get to know the area better, we rented a partially finished room in an unfinished basement of a lovely and lively artist.  She described it to us as camping indoors and almost wouldn’t show it to us since she didn’t think it would be suitable for a family.  Little did she realize that we’d been living out of our car for the last year.  Camping inside?  With access to running water, heat, and electric lights?  Sold!  It’s a temporary situation, so if we don’t have a new home by the summer, we’ll have to find a new temporary home.  But, the thought of not having to move every few days makes this dark basement seem like a luxurious retreat.  And the area around the house couldn’t be more beautiful.  The views from her studio are stunning, and there are multiple hiking trails that leave within a quarter-mile of the house.

And through all that awaits us, I look forward to continuing to share it right here.  But, before I start writing more about what we’re up to right now, I’ll be walking back a few months in time and writing a couple more posts about our wonderful month in New Mexico.  Easily one of the highlights of our trip.

Butterflies, Pelicans, Elephant Seals, Museums, and Smog: We Must Be in California!

To Beautiful to Bottle It!

To Beautiful to Bottle It!

After a fantastic week in the San Francisco area, we slowly made our way south along the coast.  Our first stop was at a truly luxurious resort-like campground just south of the city (Costanoa KOA).  From there we enjoyed the beach, played lawn games, washed dishes in warm water (a true luxury), and spent a day in Palo Alto having our car serviced while we frolicked around Stanford’s campus.  This was my first time seeing Stanford and…wow!  What an incredible campus.  I felt like I was visiting a cross between a university and a resort.  I know there are a few of you Stanford grads reading this blog – what a beautiful place you called home for a few years!  This is definitely a place to visit if you’re ever in the area.  Unfortunately for us, the museum was closed the day we swung by, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the Rodin Garden.  Van especially enjoyed posing with the sculptures.

Was Van a Muse for Rodin?

Was Van a Muse for Rodin?

Strong Like the Sculpture

Strong Like the Sculpture

Stanford

Stanford

The theme of our time on the Central California Coast was wildlife.  Beautiful, sea-loving wildlife – from human wildlife to feathered and flippered friends.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon watching the pelicans soar above the ocean and getting our toes sandy while we watched men and women in wetsuits fly across the water.

We also ambled through the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary, spying the beautiful winged creatures hanging like dead leaves from the branches of eucalyptus trees.  It reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s recent novel, Flight Behavior, except not quite that overwhelming.

Monarchs

Monarchs in Pacific Grove

From Costanoa, we headed south along the coast through Big Sur.  Big Sur is the name of a town along the coast, but it’s used more commonly to refer to the entire stretch of coast between Carmel and San Simeon.  The views were stunning, but my favorite was the walk to the cliff’s edge to spy a waterfall crashing into the surf below at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  McWay Falls and the horseshoe-shaped cliffs with a beautiful sandy beach tucked into its embrace was paradise.  Not a paradise where you can get your toes sandy, but a view of paradise to enjoy from above.  There are signs warning you not to climb down the cliff face to the beach below, and I think we’re all better for that.

McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

As beautiful as the views were, the highlight of our day was easily our stop in San Simeon.  No, not Hearst Castle (we figured that Van wouldn’t appreciate it and we wouldn’t appreciate his whines on a guided tour), but the elephant seals!  We were given good advice to stop and see the seals.  While the smell was a little overwhelming at times, it didn’t stop us from spending a long time just watching these awkward creatures sunbathe, play, fight, and amble across the sand to the sea.  None of us could get enough of it, but Van was particularly enamored by their antics.  Below are a few of the dozens of photos we took while we were captivated.

After we pried ourselves away, we headed down to our lovely little motel in Morro Bay for a couple of days of errands and exploration.  Unfortunately, the only decent photo I have of our time there was of Morro Rock, a very large (and very cool) rock erupting from the bay.

Morro Rock in Morro Bay, California

Morro Rock in Morro Bay, California

And from there we went south.  We checked out a few towns along the way, but our main goal was Los Angeles.  We spent several nights at a very over-priced and not tent-friendly KOA.  I’ll save you the details except to tell you that we were the lucky attendees of two loud and competing concerts, all while in our pjs in the tent.  Sigh…

I was excited to visit Los Angeles with Alan and Van since I’ve always been a fan when I’ve visited in the past.  Though we had some great times on this visit, I realize that between camping far from any of the things we wanted to do (tent camping in the state parks was either booked solid or insanely priced – $45 to $60, no thank you) and the high level of smog, it was not an ideal visit.

Proof We Were In Los Angeles!

Proof We Were In Los Angeles!

Smog, Thank You Very Much!

View of Los Angeles

That being said, the highlights were an afternoon in Santa Monica spent with Alan’s college friend, Tyler, and a day full of art at The Getty Center and The Getty Villa.  Pro tip: if you’re planning to go to one of these and you have a full day, go to both on the same day.  As long as you make reservations in advance to visit the villa (this is required for the villa, not for the center), you only pay for parking once ($15) and the fee is good for both places.  There is no entrance fee, so the $15 parking fee is all that is needed to visit these gems.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California

The Getty Villa, Malibu, California

The Getty Villa, Malibu, California

My favorites at The Getty Center were the architecture, the gardens, and a stunning temporary exhibit of Abelardo Morell’s photographs.  From a past visit, just days after it first opened, I remembered that the views were stunning, as well.  Alas, the smog got in the way of that during this visit.  Van’s highlight was rolling down the hill.  Over and over.  He was in heaven!

These gorgeous flowers reminded me so much of dancers.  Any leads on what type of flowers these are?

DSC_0443_01

DSC_0446_01

My parting observation about Los Angeles: there are a lot of Persians in this city!  Given the current exhibition at The Getty Villa (The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia), we weren’t surprised to be in a sea of Persians, but that wasn’t the only place where I noted a high volume of my lovely husband’s kinfolk.  Sadly, we didn’t partake in any kebab or ghormeh sabzi while were there.  We’ll just have to wait until we get back to Colorado.

Flexing Our Social Butterfly Wings in San Francisco

Our travels have been a relatively solitary affair.  While we see friends and family from time to time and speak with strangers most places we go, the vast majority of our time is spent just the three of us.  Then…BAM…everything changed.  But just for a week.  Over the course of six days, we had plans with six different sets of friends!  It was so much fun and such a great change of pace.  It also gave us the opportunity to see the San Francisco area through the eyes of locals.  This was, without a doubt, my favorite city of the trip thus far.

Obligatory Golden Gate Bridge Shot

Obligatory Golden Gate Bridge Shot

Obligatory San Francisco Fog Shot

Obligatory San Francisco Fog Shot

We began our visit with a visit to Napa (no wine tasting for us, just grape peeping) and a delicious dinner in Petaluma with Alan’s college friend, Dan.  Thanks, Dan, for the fanciest meal we’ve eaten on the entire trip!

The next morning, Dan took us on a tour of San Francisco, complete with a visit to the roof of his office building with superb views of the city.

San Francisco on a Sunny Sunday

San Francisco on a Sunny Sunday

Not our Usual View!

Not our Usual View!

Van’s favorite was clapping in the middle of the dome at the Palace of Fine Arts and listening to its amplification.  Although he did also bust quite a move to some house music on the street.  Budding dancer?

Clapping at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Clapping at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Alan and Dan

Dan and Alan

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

We capped off our relaxing Sunday with a delicious dinner at the Marin Brewing Company with my former colleague, Jane, and her family.  We had an excellent time!  So excellent, in fact, that I forgot to capture any of it on film.  Van was particularly enamored by Jane’s daughter Sarah, who happens to be fantastic with younger children.  I see great babysitting potential in her future…  Thank you Jane, Jason, and Sarah for a great dinner out and for putting up with Van’s keyboard accompaniment to dessert!

We decided to head back into wine country on Monday and check out Sonoma.  We were just about to stop and taste some wine, when Van fell fast asleep.  Instead of enjoying some crushed grapes, we spent another few hours driving through the gorgeous countryside.  Based on appearances alone, Sonoma has Napa beat by a long shot in my book.  The area is so much more pastoral and intimate.  More grit and less shine.  More blue jeans, less heels.  Our favorite was the area up and around Healdsburg.  This would be a great place to return to when Alan and I have the chance to get away without the little one in tow.

Van woke up just in time to run around the playground in the center of Sonoma before we headed off to Santa Rosa to spend the evening with my friend Jess and her son, Brayden.  The boys had some more playground fun while Jess and I caught up.  We hadn’t seen each other in over five years, but it felt just like yesterday.  After the boys had exhausted some of their energy, we headed out for some real California Mexican food.  Much to my embarrassment, Van has been the welcome recipient of Taco Bell, which he refers to as Ding Ding, several times during this trip.  As soon as he heard Jess tell him that he was going to have rice and beans for dinner, his face lit up and he said, “Ding Ding?!?!”  And this, my friends, is when I knew that we had led him far astray.  Jess, you’ll be happy to know that we haven’t been to a Ding Ding since we’ve seen you.  We have, however, had some more terrific Mexican food.  At this point, I think (or at least, I hope) Van would revolt if we took him back to Ding Ding after experiencing the real deal.  Thanks, Jess and Brayden, for a fantastic night and for food that was much, much better than Ding Ding!

Brayden, Jess, and the three of us after filling up on some excellent Mexican food

Brayden, Jess, and the three of us after filling up on some excellent Mexican food

Trying to set a trip record for most days in a row that we ate a meal out, we headed into San Francisco on Tuesday to have lunch with my friend, Bryna and her lovely girlfriend, Sarah.  The company, the food, the atmosphere…it was all perfect.  Sarah had to skip out after lunch to finish studying for an exam, but that meant we had Bryna all to ourselves that afternoon.  We spent a perfect afternoon sprawled out on a blanket on the grass while Van played for hours on a playground in Golden Gate Park.  Heavenly!  Again, it was a case of feeling as if no time had gone by since we’d last seen each other.  Now if all of these wonderful people in my life weren’t so scattered across the country… Oh well, that’s what travel is for!  Thanks for a great San Francisco day, Bryna.  We miss you!

Stacey, Van, and Bryna in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Stacey, Van, and Bryna in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

After five nights of camping in a KOA in Petaluma, which we learned is populated on the weekends mainly by people from….Petaluma (what?!?!), we packed up and headed off to spend the day and night with my friend Mahea in rural Sonoma county.  We spent the day eating delicious food, drinking beer in the sun, wandering around Mahea and Alea’s lush gardens, feeding donkeys, moving mulch, and picking dinner.  This is my definition of a perfect day.  Spending it with Mahea made it even more magical.  Alan, I hope you were taking notes!  Alea, thanks for sharing Mahea with us for the day.  We were sorry to miss you!  Thank you, Mahea, for a truly refreshing day and night.

Mahea, Van, and Stacey

Mahea, Van, and Stacey

Fast Friends

Fast Friends

My New Friend!

My New Friend!

I think...

I think…

Mahea made a huge impact on Van.  Almost a month after we had seen her, Van asked us over dinner one night if he could see Mahea and travel with her to Oregon and Washington.  So cute!  If you’re planning a trip up there any time soon, Mahea, your traveling companion is set.Van asking to travel with Mahea is a big deal.  He rarely asks for anyone by name except for family members.  There are three other exceptions to this rule – Liam (his friend from home), Radar (our friend Elizabeth’s dog), and Bobby (Elizabeth’s boyfriend).  We had met Bobby when we were in Seattle, but he happens to live in San Francisco.  Given that Van had not stopped asking to see him, we knew we couldn’t leave the city without seeing Bobby.  If anything, spending the evening in the Mission with Bobby just cemented his super-cool status in Van’s book.  He introduced Van to Delores Park and its awesome, new playground, took him (and us) to see Clarion Alley, an alley of large, brightly colored, and definitely not G-rated murals, ate lots of yummy tacos, and played “tunnel” over and over again on the darkened streets.  The latter of these largely consisted of Van and Bobby being silly while Van ran through Bobby’s legs, yelling TUNNEL!  Thanks, Bobby, for a perfect end to our stay in the San Francisco area!  Where will we see you next?

San Francisco with Bobby

Is There Anybody Out There?

Inspired by a family member’s superstar blog (thanks, Nate!), I set a few blogging goals for myself this past summer.  My goals were rather modest.  The first, to have 50 email subscribers, was reached quickly.  My second goal, to have 10,000 page views, will be met in the next couple of days.  All of this has me thinking, who out there is following along on our adventure?  I’d love for you to leave a quick comment introducing yourself and letting me know how you found the blog.  I’m not sure what will be more interesting, finding out which of my friends read this regularly or hearing from strangers who are following along.

Happy trails!

Golden Friends in the Emerald City

Me and Elizabeth at Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Me and Elizabeth at Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

One of the best parts of this adventure is having the opportunity to spend time with friends and family who live in far-flung locations around this country.  We are lucky enough to have several friends in the Pacific Northwest who have graciously welcomed us into our homes, making this portion of our trip even more fun and relaxing.  Breaking our habit of only staying with Smithies or family, we spent a long weekend with our friend Elizabeth who lives in Seattle.

The Seattle Skyline from Gasworks Park

The Seattle Skyline from Gas Works Park

Elizabeth and I met as classmates in an environmental clinic while students at Georgetown Law.  We spent the entire semester sitting at a small table, not much larger than a desk for one, with two other people (four people total!) while we worked on representing a long-standing clinic client in their water rights lawsuits.  There is absolutely no one better to share such close quarters with, and I feel eternally grateful that she and I wound up working on the same project that semester.  After sharing such close quarters all those years ago, it felt natural to move right into her home for a long weekend.  In addition to being a fantastic friend, Elizabeth also holds the honor of being the human companion of the world’s best dog.  Seriously.  All the dog owners out there reading this may argue with me and tell me your dog is the best, but I’d challenge all of you – and win.  Radar is seriously the best dog ever.  And Van agrees!

Two Boys in Heaven

Two Boys in Heaven

While Elizabeth was busy bringing home the bacon for that cute pup, Van, Alan, and I struck out for the bus to the Pacific Science Center.  Once again, we got great use out of our membership to The Boonshoft Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  Free entrance to the Pacific Science Center and a full day of fun for the little guy (and us).  This was a fantastically large and well-done museum.  It took the promise of riding the bus again to get Van to leave voluntarily.  Speaking of the bus, even though I’m generally not a city person, i do love me some public transportation.  I always have.  Taking the bus made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve ridden the bus or the metro, which used to be a regular occurrence during our days in the DC area.  We soaked it all in while visiting the most urban-feeling city of our travels thus far.

Once we had Elizabeth to ourselves, we spent some time exploring an Asian grocer, checking out her neighborhood, eating Pho, spending hours catching up, and falling asleep in this beautiful hammock.

Home to a relaxing couple of hours

Home to my Saturday afternoon nap

We were also lucky enough to secure an invitation to dinner at another friend’s house, who also happened to be a classmate at Georgetown.  She and her family were so kind to welcome us all into their gorgeous modernist home.  Her boys were immediately welcoming to Van, and we had a great time chatting about our various travels (including their recent camping adventure in Yellowstone).  It was so great to spend time with friends and see familiar and lovely faces on our journey.  Thanks, Kymberly, Aaron, Lucas, and Jack!

Before our weekend was over, Elizabeth’s boyfriend Bobby rolled into town and Van was immediately infatuated.  As background, Van named our recently deceased van, Bobby.  He likes the name, yes, but this infatuation was about much more than the name.  He did spend several days after we left Seattle asking for Bobby (and Radar, who he continues to ask for – sorry Elizabeth)!  We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to see Bobby again as we continue to roll down the west coast.

Bobby and Van Hiking to Snow Lake

Bobby and Van Hiking to Snow Lake

The six of us (Elizabeth, Bobby, Radar, Alan, Van, and me) struck out on a gorgeous Sunday morning for a beautiful but crowded hike in the Central Cascades.  We decided to hike up to Snow Lake, and apparently many other folks had the same fine idea on the first Sunday after Labor Day.  It was beautiful, seriously beautiful!

Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Views from the Hike to Snow Lake, Washington

Views from the Hike to Snow Lake, Washington

Enjoying the Water

Enjoying the Water

Thank you Elizabeth, Radar, and Bobby for a wonderful, relaxing, and fun weekend.  See you in San Francisco?!?!