Tuesday, March 20, 2012

May 2011: Vegas

The majority of May was spent visiting family outside California.  Susie, Lori, and baby Katie had purchased tickets to fly to Vegas to visit Jeff, Allison and Grant, and since we didn't want to miss out on any fun, we decided to join them!  The timing was actually perfect because I'd been wanting to get out to Utah to see my family anyway, so it just worked out to make one big trip of it.  Jeff and Allison, who for roughly five years had lived in Vacaville (of all places - thank you, Air Force), were reassigned to Vegas within weeks of Neil's move to California in the summer of 2010.  It's so funny and sad at the same time that we missed living within two hours of each other by only a matter of weeks.  But, that's life!  Anyway, I think everyone (with the exception of Dave, Jared, Brad and Courtney, who were not able to come and who we missed) was excited to get to Vegas to see Jeff and Allison's new digs and to spend time with one another!

Our traveling adventures began bright and early on the morning of May 1st, when we hit the road for the anticipated eigh-hour drive to the desert.
Ryan, our little travelin' man.

The drive was thankfully uneventful and relatively pleasant.  Upon arriving at Jeff and Allison's, we were greeted warmly by all.  Then, not a minute after entering the house, I received a text from my "Uncle Alfred" announcing Osama Bin Laden's death.  Not exactly the ideal topic of conversation to kick off a family vacation, but still very good news to hear!

The following morning, Jeff and Allison both had to work, so the rest of us entertained Grant for a few hours.  I also took a run, which was actually quite miserable.  The heat and dry air threw me for a loop, but the change in scenery was interesting.  And now I can say I've run in the desert while watching the Vegas strip.  :)

Grant and Katie

That evening (or possibly the following - I can't remember now), Jeff made his famous, amazing, delectable, heavenly, I-could-literally-just-eat-it-and-nothing-else-and-be-totally-satisfied fried turkey.  And it was, as usual, everything I hoped and dreamed it could be.

Catching up with cousins!

After dinner we drove to a park nearby and let the kids wear themselves out.
Love those bottom teeth! 
Sweet Lori and Katie
Ryan brought his plasma car, which quickly became the popular item, not just among the kids.

Over the next couple of days, we just hung around and relaxed, rotating between the basement full of toys, and the back yard, which was any child's paradise.

Silly kids.  Not sure what I think of Chloe's pose.  A little too Marilyn Monroeish.
And oh, dear daughter, who's 5 going on 16.  What joyfully dramatic adventures lie ahead with you.
Relaxing with my stinkers.

Our original plans with Neil's family consisted of a couple days at Zion's National Park, from where we would part ways and drive on to Salt Lake. However, when we left the early afternoon of the 4th, Jeff's land cruiser overheated about 40 miles into the drive. We stopped at a gas station to better assess the situation, but it was quickly determined that we weren't going much further.  With two vehicles jam-packed with camping gear and food, we really didn't want to turn back and go home.  So instead, we camped at a State park within about 10 miles of our location. It was called Valley of Fire, if I remember right. Wasn't exactly Zion's National Park material, but it actually turned out to be quite beautiful. I know, gasp!  Me, using the word beautiful in a sentence about camping. What are the odds? :)

It was HOT and we were all exhausted by the time we got in and found a good campsite, so initially we held off on unpacking the cars and instead grabbed our camping chairs and took a rest in the shade. 

Chloe and the boys had a ball playing in the red, sandy dust and climbing rocks.

Shortly after cat naps, we did a little hiking up a large rock structure.

Here's a view of our campsite from said structure.

After dinner we did more exploring and playing...
Allison looked great with her tiny 7 month baby bump.

It's incredible to me the intricacy of these rocks.  They really were beautiful.  And the kids couldn't get enough. 

That night after dinner, we had hot chocolate and sat around the campfire. Neil and his siblings talked about camping trips of years past, which there were many of, I hear.  It was really neat listening to the stories and I can easily see how such activities could create lasting memories and bonds between siblings and loved ones.  Neil has said again and again throughout our marriage how much he enjoyed those times with his family.  I look forward to creating similar memories with our kids as they grow.  It was a pleasant, and relatively warm night, enjoyed under the stars with good company.  The following morning we ate, packed up and drove back to Jeff's.  This had not been in our original plans, but the thought of spending a full day in triple digit temps with no water did not appeal much to us.  Upon arriving home, we migrated to the pool, where we pretty much spent the whole rest of the day.

With the kids fully engrossed in the many fun activity choices before them and plenty of adult supervision to go around, Neil and I were able to slip out for an hour to go see the Vegas temple. I LOVE visiting temples, and was really excited for the opportunity to see this one.

It was wonderful to walk around even for a few minutes and feel of the sweetness that abided there.
Driving home, we passed this mammoth of a plant.  Looks like a big creepy spider!!

That evening we went back to the park and played one last time.

Oh what laughs these pictures will bring when Grant and Katie are teenagers!

Later that night, after kids were in bed, Neil and I snuck off to Walmart to buy Jeff a birthday present and ingredients for my special queso.  When we got home we presented Jeff's gift, which was the glorious game of Mexican Train, then proceeded to play it while enjoying the yummy queso.  Not far into the game, it occurred to me that today was Cinco De Mayo.  Made me laugh.  What a more appropriate way to (unintentionally) celebrate this holiday than with a game of Mexican Train and some chips and queso.  :)  I think I was more entertained by this realization than anyone else.

The following morning, May 6th - Brad and Courtney's 2nd anniversary and my Aunt Valeri's birthday, we said our goodbyes and hit the road, Salt Lake bound.  It was a really fun visit with Neil's family, and we were sad to go. Not too sad, however, because we knew we'd all be together again only four months later on the glassy waters of  Lake Powell.  Thanks again for hosting a great vacation, Jeff and Allison!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Temple with the girls

Living in Ripon has had its ups and its downs.  Among the ups and surely at the top of that list has been the many sweet friends I've made.  On the 1st of February, I had the opportunity to go to the Oakland temple with Misty and Lorilee.  It was very last minute, and required some juggling with the kids, but all three of us felt a strong urge to go, and so we made it happen.  I am so glad we did.
{Not a bad shot, considering we propped Misty's camera on the fountain and set the timer.}

My heart was particularly full that morning, and I entered the temple with a prayer that I might leave with greater clarity and peace about a couple specific things that had been troubling me.  Sometimes the Lord's timing is just incredible.  I say that because I had an experience as we were leaving that provided me that peace and at least a level of understanding I'd been seeking.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to attend the temple.  And I am so grateful for the many friends I have, both near and far, who lift me up every single day.  Without these things, I'd be hopeless.

Latter half of January: Kids' milestones, Neil's birthday and the Niners!

Since I never wrapped up the month of January, let me do so now.  Beginning with...

CHLOE, who learned about Martin Luther King, Jr...

And celebrated Chinese New Year...

As well as her 100th day of school!
As a homework assignment that week, each student was assigned to bring in 100 of something - anything - and present it in a creative way.  Chloe chose pennies, so we grabbed some wrapping paper and a shoe box and went to town.  She couldn't wait to show her teacher and classmates!

Chloe also read her first book from start to finish without any mistakes or assistance!

And she drew me this sweet picture.  Pretty much melted my heart. 

Chloe also earned "top of the class" on the 19th.
When I told her I was proud of her, she said, "Thanks. It was A LOT of work!"

And one night at dinner, she said,
"I tried the chicken and I just loved it so much that I'm gonna save it for last!"

Love her.

RYAN, who is growing to love legos like his sister, created this masterpiece...

Helped me in the kitchen...

Made vicious faces at himself in the mirror while jumping on the bed (with Josh)...

Disguised himself as "Super boy"...

And meant BUSINESS!

He looked so adorable in the crown given to him in Sunbeams one Sunday at church...
...that I had to take his picture.

Naturally, this prompted the transformation of sweet Ryan to tough Ryan.
It was nice while it lasted.

THE KIDS, as always, kept meal time entertaining...

And, speaking of food, had fun helping me make snacks for the 49ers/Saints game.
This is the grub we enjoyed while sweating through the game.

And, that same day, I received a text from my brother, containing this picture.
I got David this flag for his birthday and he waved it with pride for the first time, that day. Good luck? Perhaps.

Speaking of the 49ers and David, the following Friday, January 20th, I awoke to an email from him, which he'd sent at 4:47am, informing me that he had purchased a plane ticket to fly to CA the following day for the NFC Championship game and wondered if I might like to join him. :) He had been up all night searching around online for the perfect seats and the best deals, researching airfare, etc.  I still can't fully express the feelings I had as I sat there starring at my computer screen.  As the reality sunk in, first that my lifelong team, who hadn't had a decent season in nearly a decade was only a game away from the Superbowl, and second, that my brother was taking me to this historical event, I felt a range of emotions - all good.  David has always had such a thoughtful and sneaky way of doing special things for those he loves. I never expected this - never, ever - and was so thrilled, honored and humbled by his generosity.  And still, 2 months later, I'm pinching myself.

On Saturday, we all met up at Scott and Heather's in Pleasanton.  David and Debbie had flown into Oakland so it worked out perfectly.  And staying at Heather's Saturday night gave us a fairly easy commute to the city Sunday morning.  We had a great time with family, despite poor Heather having the flu.  She spent about 90% of the day in bed, but did come out to eat and visit with us for a short while.

Attempting roller skates with the help of dad...

Beep beep!

After dinner, David and I snuck out to grab Neil a birthday cake, and proceeded to surprise him and celebrate his special day, 3 days early. :)
Clearly we take life way too seriously...
I love how comfortable Chloe looks between "Uncle D" and Debbie, and how she's holding his arm.
Poor Heather.  She was in great spirits, as always, despite feeling miserable.

Here's Neil and me in our Niners gear.

Neil did not go to the game with us Sunday, so we made sure to grab a picture together Saturday night before he and the kids headed home.

Sunday morning was rainy and gross, and unfortunately the weather did not improve with the day. We still had an absolute blast though. It truly was one of the greatest experiences of my life going to that game.  It has been so long since the 49ers have been anything, and to go from nothing to something pretty significant in one short season was an exciting thing to see! And even though we lost to the Giants in the end (and really shouldn't have), I still felt a satisfying sense of pride standing there in the rain and cheering them on.  Coach Harbaugh lit a fire beneath the 49ers this season, and molded them into something amazing.  They accomplished great things, and will certainly be back next season with something to prove.  Can't wait to see what that is... 

Billboards we passed as we were exiting the freeway.  Welcome to San Francisco!

Standing in line with David, just outside Candlestick Park.

All four of us (David "Stuart," David "Mark," Debbie and me)

More pictures from my cell phone.  The one on the far left demonstrates but really doesn't give justice to the crazy rain pouring down on us.  It was a wet mess, to say the least.  But I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

David found us awesome seats pretty much right at mid-field so we had a perfect view. 

Goldrush Cheerleaders! 

What a moment.  The pictures do no justice...

Again, no justice. Exploding fireworks, screaming crowds, pouring rain, pure awesomeness...

The field-sized American flag...

Incredible... USA!!!

Taken during halftime, when it was still any one's game.

Among the many awesome experiences of this day, I also had my self-esteem boosted, not once, but twice, by two complete strangers.  To a degree I hesitate to include this because I don't want to come across as arrogant, as I am quite the opposite.  But inevitably there are going to be days in the future when I'll need that reminder that I still got it, so I'm just gonna go ahead and share.  :)  First, while standing in line to get some food, the cashier was having trouble swiping my debit card.  He kept saying it wouldn't take, and even tried my credit card as a last resort.  It turned out he was swiping both cards the wrong direction, but that's beside the point.  Anyway, during this somewhat uncomfortable process, the guy standing next to me in line, who without hesitation had struck up a friendly conversation asking who I was, where I was from, etc, etc, etc, saw what was happening and practically insisted on paying for my food, saying something like, "a pretty girl like you doesn't need to go hungry," or something to that effect.  Thankfully, the cashier discovered the problem and finally got my card to take.  With that, I kindly declined the nice guy's offer, thanked him and walked away.

Then, just as the third quarter kicked off, I was walking back to my seat and some random guy, who was standing close by and starring me right in the face nonchalantly and in somewhat of a dreamy tone, said, "Wow.  You must be the most beautiful girl in this entire stadium."  !!!  Uhh, what?!  Are you talking to me?  Me?  The mom of 2 kids?  Who just turned 30!?  Who's standing here in this miserable, wet rain, with my hair soaked and mascara most likely running down my face?  Who's wearing layers and layers of clothing, not to mention this awesome rain poncho?  Really?  Me?!!  I was so touched by his compliment, and by the direct and honest manner in which he delivered it.  And hey, maybe he'd just had a few too many beers and was telling every girl he happened upon the very same thing.  But I don't know that he didn't do that, and either way, it made me feel really good.  I thanked him profusely and continued to my seat.

I don't go to great lengths these days to do my hair and makeup every time I leave the house, I certainly don't dress to impress, and let's face it, things aren't exactly what and where they used to be.  So it's nice to be reminded, even though it's not often, that I still have the ability to turn a head.  :)

I love football and I love 49er football. It is so awesome having been a fan my entire life, and to once again (after 10 years) be living within 80 miles of their home turf. I love driving around and seeing 49ers license plate holders, random strangers wearing 49ers gear, and having 49ers merchandise and apparel right within my fingertips.  Shoot, I got the shirts Neil and I were wearing in the above picture at Target!  I also remember walking into Old Navy last August to this display in the front of the store.

Don't mind Ryan there in the center.  He wanted to be in the picture too.

Those mannequins sure are creepy, but it warmed my heart to see all that red and gold!  Sometimes it just hits me that I'm living in California again.


So January was a good month.  Lots of fun times had and memories made.  Thanks again, David, for the awesome experience!  And Happy 33rd Birthday to Neil!!