Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend in Monterey

This past weekend, Chris had a wedding to attend near Monterey, CA so we decided to make a weekend out of it. Its been a while since we've done anything like that. I say Chris and not "we" because they specifically asked for no children to attend and since we didn't bring a babysitter, that meant William and I hung out together instead.

After the Walk for Life, we made the drive down. We stayed at an AirBnB in Marina CA which was nice, but not really kid friendly (wood floors, glass tables, fancy everything). While Chris was at the wedding William and I walked to the beach. When looking at the map, it looked like it was only six city blocks away which is totally doable, but this "city" was all spread out and a block was probably close to half a mile. In the end, it ended up being a four mile walk there and back! Including my walk that morning, I put in well over my 10,000 steps!

It was much colder than I had hoped it would be so we bundled up and got out or sand toys and had an hour of fun before hiking back for dinner. William and I ate at Taco Bell (because Toddler boy loves tacos and nachos and I figured it was better he eat than not). The decor was like a 50's diner and totally great for William's attention span. We actually had a nice little "date" and headed back just in time for bedtime.

Sleep was a little harder to come by that night. It was hot in the room and noisy outside but we had to have the window open. We missed our white noise of the fan from home and the sheets sounded like crinkled newspaper each time we moved. William woke up each time we got out of bed (to adjust the window or use the bathroom) and at one point he started sining "Jesus Loves Me" for nearly 15 minutes. Which is really the sweetest thing ever, but when you are loosing sleep, its not. Sharing a room was hard on all of us.

On Sunday, William woke up at 6 a.m. and we showered, packed our bags and headed to McDonalds! The only place open at 7:30 that had a playground (none of the parks I saw the day before had playgrounds for kids . . . just nature paths and bird watching).

After breakfast we headed to Monterey to see the aquarium. Chris and I had been one other time and we were excited to go again and knew William would love it too. We got there before it opened and stayed until 11:30. William was exhausted by then and it was apparent just how much sleep he missed the night before. But we got to see most of what we wanted to: the penguins, the jelly fish, the open sea aquarium, the touch pools, and several other tanks - sharks, rays, salmon, etc. I think the sharks were William's favorite!

We grabbed a quick lunch and got in the car. We handed William his glass of milk and his lovey and within 15 minutes he was out! He slept most of the way home (which never happens). It was good to be home and have just enough time for grocery shopping and getting the laundry done before we all went to bed for a better night sleep.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alpha's 2015 Walk for Life: Success

Last time I mentioned the Walk for Life event happening this past weekend I told you that I couldn't participate in the actual walk but was going to try to fundraise for the organization anyway. Well, we had a slight change in our plans and I was able to walk after all! William and I also spent an hour earlier this week helping organize the gifts that were going to be given. This was the first time I've done volunteering with William! I hope we can make that type of thing a regular part of our lives.

Thanks to those who sponsored me early on! I was so encouraged to see the support Alpha has even from outside city borders. And thanks to those who gave at the last minute! I was glad to be able to enter the walk with a grand total of $250 in actual gifts plus two pledges yet to come! Thank you, thank you!!

I didn't reach my goal of raising $1000, but with this year's participation being so last minute, I am being gracious with myself. But that won't stop me from asking you to continue supporting and praying for this amazing organization who loves on women and children in need like no one else in this city.

Now, back to to the event:
A friend of mine actually joined me at the last minute and we were able to walk together on a team of people from Sunset Church. It was her first time on the walk and I was so glad she came! Our team was assigned to two families. The first was actually right next door to the pregnancy center and we had to make that visit quick as the mother was about to be late for work. She was so gracious for all the gifts we brought for her daughter and so thankful for all Alpha has done for her family. She and her mother let us pray for her and we said good bye. Later the grandmother asked if she could get a couple of our event sweatshirts! Of course our team obliged!

Our second family wasn't too far away either. This was a family with two really little kids. We were glad to be able to meet the children and offer prayer for this family as well. The meeting was brief as we handed over our bags of gifts and let them know how loved they are.

From there the team walked to John McLaren Park, we had a wonderful time getting to know each other -- it made the walk go really fast! At the park we joined the rest of the walkers and had a picnic together. The total raised for the walk this year was $11,000 and we had over 150 walkers. The event was a success!

Thanks again for all who sponsored me!

"Hungry Caterpillar" Party

William turned two on October 1, but the first available weekend we had to celebrate with our city friends wasn't until October 11. Chris has always wanted to grill out for a party so when I saw that our neighborhood park had a grill/picnic area I could reserve, I just knew that would be the perfect location. The eating area was also really close to one of William's favorite playgrounds so there would be plenty for the littles to do!

We went with a “Hungry Caterpillar” theme as it has been one of William's favorite books for nearly all two years of his life. And it basically planned the menu for me! Other than the grilled meats we had sliced apples and pears, a bowl of strawberries and oranges, a cheese platter, watermelon and a big salad. And of course, chocolate cupcakes for dessert. We left out the salami, cherry pie, and lolly pops (and I'm sure a few other things).

it kills me that I didn't fix the legs for the picture . . .

To go along with the caterpillar theme, we got green and red balloons and tied them in a row along the railing to look like a caterpillar (blowing in the wind). And I made William's T-shirt (but failed to get a photo before food got all over it).

Nearly twenty of our friends came to the party! Everyone seemed to have a great time – enjoying the food and the playground nearby. They spoiled William with gifts, hugs and “happy birthdays.” When the time came for dessert, we decided to try the candle and see how William did blowing it out. It was a little windy so after a couple of attempts we got the flame to stay long enough for William to try a couple of blows, and with some help, he got it out!

my cousins also came to celebrate! 
(Serious expressions to match William's confusion)

I had ended up spending most of the day at the playground with William and the other moms and kids while the dads hung out by the food and some even helped clean up. It was a fun party and a great excuse to get together.

William understood the concept of presents a lot more this year and enjoyed opening all his gifts – his current favorites are a plastic food cooking set and a dump truck and tractor. He was entirely pleased with the day I am sure and Chris and I had a great time with everyone!

Happy Birthday Little Caterpillar!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Australia: Traveling

I wanted to share a couple of stories about my flights to and from Australia, just because its not every day I spend 20 hours by myself on a plane.

If I was nervous about anything to do with this trip, it was traveling by myself and being "in charge" of my money and passport. Chris has always handled all of that when we travel together. But thankfully everything turned out just fine.

I flew Air New Zealand. I was assigned a middle seat for my flight to Auckland. Chris recommended I try to upgrade my seat when I checked in because, really, who wants a middle seat. I checked in, to find that I was only allowed a 15 lb carry on bag, mine weighted 20. Size had nothing to do with it. So I urgently shuffled some stuff into my back pack and checked my luggage (first bag was free so it was all good). Then when I inquired about upgrading she said there were aisle seats available and I could move my seat for free. In fact, she put me in a premium seat (the front row of the economy section so I had double the leg room)!

When I got on the plane, it looked like I would have an entire middle row to myself - that's a lot of leg room! But before we took off, the mother with a two year old sleeping across her entire body had asked the flight attendant if she could switch with me so her son could lay down in the middle two seats. I being a mother of a two-year old who would never sleep on a flight had to say yes, of course. Please take it all. I ended up getting a window seat in the premium row with an empty seat next to me. It was really perfect. Then, as a "thank-you for being human" gift, the attendant brought me noise-canceling headphones from first class and ear plugs, "just in case." Score!

I watched a movie, "Pitch Perfect 2," ate my dinner and went to sleep. I think I actually slept pretty well because the flight didn't seem to take as long as I had expected (it was still 13 hours). I had a 3 hour layover in Auckland before flying another 4 hours to Melbourne.

The flight to Melbourne was pretty uneventful. I had an aisle seat and they fed me breakfast. I watched "The Book Thief" and read my book "Love Does." Customs and baggage claim went well enough. I had to ask a few people for help because the kiosk for customs didn't like my passport, but the customs officer was wonderful (although did not crack a smile at all).

The flight from Sydney to Auckland was also uneventful, and seemed short in comparison to the long day ahead. I had planned it that way because I knew if I had flown to LA and then had to connect to SFO, I would have gone insane. I would have been so close, yet hours away. This way felt more direct somehow. I used my layovers to journal and read; that little screen is too distracting for me to do that on the plane.

My flight to SFO was delayed 30 minutes which felt like terrible news . . . I hated to have to wait at all. I had an aisle seat on the flight to San Francisco, which was exactly what I wanted. I hate asking other people if I can go to the bathroom -- especially if I'm feeling nervous and have to go every hour. (That didn't end up happening, but I was concerned. Also note, that if you are in a middle seat next to me, I give you plenty of opportunities to do the same!) The couple next to me seemed nice although they watched their TV screen the entire time which I found annoying when I tried to sleep. I had left my neck pillow in the Aukland airport, so sleeping was a little more uncomfortable for more than just that reason. I ended up watching more TV than I had planned on.

I have never really minded airplane food, and I was surprised by how often I was fed. It seemed like I was given 4 full meals on my travel days and then water refills throughout the flight. I was stuffed.

I arrived at SFO and didn't have any problems with customs. Baggage claim took nearly 45 minutes which again felt like terrible news, just hurry up already! Finally my bags came, then I got to walk the long hallway out into the greeting area where this tall handsome man waved and pointed me out to the tiny little guy at his knee. William didn't spot me for a moment or two and when he did, a tiny smile crept on his face and he mouthed the word "mama" and then looked up at Chris. I burst into tears and swooped down to gather him in my arms saying "Yes, baby, I'm mama. Mama's here." He replied, "Mama, airport." And home we went talking about airports and airplanes and flying in the sky.

Australia: A few Days in Sydney

On Wednesday night, Katie and I flew from the Avalon airport to Sydney. Flying together for the first time was kind of fun. We always travel to see each other, but have never traveled together! We got in a little after 7 p.m. and by the time we got to our hotel it was closer to 8. We had planned to take the train to central station, but we were "invited" to ride an airport shuttle directly to our hotel -- door to door in 20 minutes . . . except for the 30 minute wait due to traffic.

We got to our hotel and found something to eat. We were fairly close to Chinatown so we took in some of that faire. The hotel lobby area was pretty nice and the staff friendly and helpful. Our actual room was a little small, but had two twin beds and a decent bathroom -- we didn't really need more than that. The location was great, a little further south than Katie had thought, but ended up being perfect.

Thursday morning we walked to a cute cafe for breakfast. That ended up being bit of a hassle as they didn't take credit cards and Katie's ATM withdrew the money from her fund but never gave her the cash. We spent the rest of our breakfast time chasing down an ATM and her talking to her bank.

We then met up with one of those "free" walking tours advertised to tourists. I had wanted to do a walking tour because I thought we'd get to see a lot of the city, but even more so for the insider information we'd gather from the guide. It really was a lovely tour. We ended up walking by most of the sites on our list and getting to hear facts and stories about those places was awesome. (Free is in quotes because it's really a donation based service as that's how the "volunteers" get paid.)

We started our tour near St. Anthony's Cathedral,  this is the view from the back as the major street it was built on no longer exists! So this used to be the view everyone saw, now no one sees it. Sad.

We walked stopped in parks and near buildings, heard stories about the convicts coming from Great Britain and who the first governor was and how he worked with his architect to build most of the buildings in the city. We walked near Lindt cafe and heard the story of a lone gunman killing two people and holding 18 hostages in December 2014. They had a memorial out front and talked about the way it united the city. It was interesting to hear that this type of crime doesn't happen in Sydney or Australia often, if ever. It really shook them up and I realized how desensitized I've become to this type of thing.

We ended the tour in front of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and across from the Opera House. Both were on our list of things to see up close, but this is the closest we got to the bridge. Our plans to walk across it were hindered by weather the next morning.

We did get to tour the Opera House on Friday afternoon, see more photos below!

The view from the harbor of downtown Sydney.

On Thursday evening we headed out to sushi for dinner. The weather had turned dark and rainy soon after our tour so we walked to the restaurant (20 minutes) in the pouring rain. Dinner was wonderful and I was really glad went out. After dinner Katie treated me to "Matilda" the musical! That was spectacular. I've always loved the story, but the kid's acting, singing, and dancing was amazing. I just loved it!

The boy behind us got in a bit of trouble for photo-bombing our pic --I thought it was great that so many families were there!

Another highlight was finding out Aussies eat ice cream cones at movies and musicals!
I laughed when I saw huge men in suits eating them, but after I heard about the tradition
I had to do it too -- Yum! It's called a Choc-Top.

We walked back to the hotel afterwards, thankfully it wasn't raining. It was actually quite pleasant. On Friday, we opted not to walk the Harbor Bridge in the rain and instead stayed close to "home." We were really close to Paddy's Market - a souvenir market - so we spent a good while there checking things out.  

The rain died off just in time for lunch so we grabbed a ride on the free bus and headed up to the Opera House. We ate lunch right on the pier (photo below) where we could see the bridge and the opera house. It was lovely - and the food was delicious!

Next up: Sydney Opera House Tour!
I found the story of it's construction really interesting. They took submissions from architectures from all over the world and choose one from Denmark. His idea looked really cool on paper, but the reality of building it was nearly impossible. They weren't able to figure out exactly how to create the domes until after construction had started . . . a little like the Duomo in Florence! It took so much longer to build than they thought and cost so much more than they bargained for they ended up asking the architect to resign. They brought in a team of locals to finish the supervision of the project making several changes to the original design and function. Anyway, here's a few photos:

I thought their choice of coloring was interesting. This room was royal purple, in each hall the chairs, while amazingly comfortable (and designed by an ergonomic specialist) were bright colors like fuchsia and orange...

We were allowed to take photographs of  the inside of the symphony hall but no others. It was stunning (seats over 2000 people)

The tiles on the outside weren't white after all!

After our tour we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We stopped for gelato and then walked through several shopping centers on the way back. 

On our way out to dinner we took a scenic walk through Hyde Park and saw St. James' Church. We had seen it from the side the day before during our tour, but this view was awesome. We didn't stay long in the park though because we saw a rat run near our feet.

For dinner, we went out for Indian food. Katie had been craving dosas and found a place that served them. It ended up being more of a formal dining experience than we anticipated but it was lovely and delicious. 

I got us lost on the way home, but we ended up where we needed to be in the end. I love maps, but I'm really terrible at reading them.

I was flying out early afternoon on Saturday so we packed up our bags the next morning and took the train to the airport. They told me immigration would take a long time so I should go straight there after checking in, which was unfortunate as it made me say goodbye to Katie an hour earlier than I had hoped. (The line that was supposed to take a long time took less than 5 minutes).

Saying goodbye was hard. We had only been together for 7 days, which is 4 days longer than we've ever been together in the past 10 years, but still . . . my time with her was over and my time in Australia was over. It was time to get on a plane and go back to my family, my routine, my normal. I was so thankful for this trip to see a lot of cool stuff and this unique time to be with friends. So very Thankful.

 I posted a lot of photos on my blog, but there are even more on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Australia: The Great Ocean Road

Katie and I got an early start on Monday morning. We had a lot to see and wanted to spend some time on the beach before we got started. One of my hopes for my vacation was to have more regular quiet times and more Bible reading as I had let that slip a lot this year. Each morning Katie and I would sit together and read, write and pray, just like we used to in college. It was really great to have time to do that together.

Anyway, this is where we stopped to do our morning quiet time:

Not bad right! We sat on the rocks, listed to the waves, watched the surfers and prayed for each other. I love meeting the Lord in places like this!

Then our road trip started: The Great Ocean Road. The road twists and turns along the coast for 150 miles; we didn't go the entire way, but I think we did most of it. It was beautiful.

We made several stops along the way. The first was a lighthouse, and then a visitors center/gift shop (where I did plenty of shopping). 

Then we got out and hiked a bit at Erskine Falls. There were a lot of stairs and it had been raining so everything was a bit wet. It felt a little like I had dwarfed in the midst of the fern-like plants and trees. And everything was so green and lush.

We stopped in Apollo Bay to get lunch (my fish and chips sans tarter sauce) and did a little more shopping. I just couldn't stop myself from going into all of the little shops on the strip. We drove a bit longer and then turned off to a side road where we were told we might see koalas in the wild. They were a little tricky to spot, but I think I did see two of them. We weren't able to stop or pull over as both times a car was right behind us (and there was no shoulder). Even though I didn't get a picture or anything, the thought that I may have seen them was enough for me!

Our last stop was The Twelve Apostles rock formations. The sun was out but it was really cold and windy, so we really didn't stay very long. It was beautiful and so different from our other stops through out the day.

It was mid afternoon by the time we reached the Twelve Apostles, and it would take a few hours to get home. We drove through the country side on the way home, it was stunning. So many fields and pasture land for sheep, cattle and horses. The sheep so fat with wool and the cattle were a different breed than I had seen before, black with a thick white belt around its middle. Google tells me they are called belted galloway cattle. 

We reached home just in time for dinner and a relaxing evening. It was a really long day but I loved getting to see so much of the coast and country side. 

I traced the Great Ocean Road in red and
attempted to outline the rest of my travels in pink (click to enlarge)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Australia: The Ocean

After our afternoon at the Queen Victoria Market, Katie and I said farewell to Pierce, Meagan and the kids and drove to Ocean Grove. As I sat in the car and we caught up, I realized what a strange setting this was for us. We were in the car, she driving on the right side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car, and we were just talking -- catching up, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. And it might be, except we've never really been in the car together other than brief stints around San Francisco (and then I don't really talk because of traffic and stress). It felt a little surreal.

After a brief stop at home where we picked up the dogs and headed to the beach. We were just in time for the sunset and it was glorious. I realize I live not far from the ocean, but somehow I have never made it there in time to see the sky change colors and turn to dusk.

We walked and talked and then headed home, stopping to pick up some fish and chips on the way. Yum! Fish and chips is quite common there and I found the way you order it interesting. You get to pick the type of fish you want, they put it in the batter and deep fry it. And you order your side of chips; they have a minimum order that will actually feed an army, so we just split that. The really interesting part is that you have to order and pay for each container of tarter sauce and ketchup you want. And it wasn't cheap. In fact, the second time I ordered fish and chips, I neglected to order the sauces and ate it dry, it wasn't nearly as tasty, but I couldn't justify spending $4 on sauces . . .

Sunday was forecasted to be the warmest day of the week, at about 70 degrees and sunny. We decided that would be our beach day and after church and lunch, we grabbed our books and blankets and went to the beach. We tried to go to one beach, but the tide was coming in, making it impossible not to actually swim.

So we tried another that had a nice grassy area. I don't know if actually got up to 70 degrees or not, but I was cold. I had my pants and jacket on and bundled in a super thick blanket. It was still lovely to read by the water, listening to the waves crash along the shore. I was reading "Love Does" by Bob Goff recommended by a friend for the trip. Eventually I warmed up and shed some layers and decided to test out the water. I rolled up my pants and let the tide meet me on the shore. It didn't feel as icy as the state-side ocean, but it certainly wasn't warm and inviting either.

That night we cooked dinner at home and went to bed early. The next day was our first big adventure: The Great Ocean Road!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Australia: The Markets

On Saturday morning, Meagan and I headed into Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bin) to meet up with my friend Katie at the Queen Victoria Market. After waiting in line at the ATM for nearly 30 minutes we grabbed some lunch, I forgot to take a photo, but it was delicious--I had an eggplant and artichoke focaccia sandwich. Sometimes I wish I could cook like that at home.

The market was huge. Aisle after aisle of Australian souvenirs: wood carvings, wool slippers, T-shirts, soaps, opal jewelry, etc. It seemed to never end. I was on a mission to get some gifts for a few people back home and had such a difficult time deciding what to bring them. I was anticipating the sticker shock as I had heard Australia is really expensive, but really it wasn't too bad coming from San Francisco. And the Australian dollar is down right now, so that helped too. Both at the market and the grocery store, I thought prices were pretty comparable to where I live.

See the Christmas booth behind us -- this place had everything!

The other part of the market was food. There was a separate area for the produce and another for the meat (indoors meat counters with coolers and ice, no worries).

Later on in my week I also went to Paddy's Market in Sydney, which had very similar souvenirs, and many booths looked identical to the one down the aisle making it really tricky to back track and find that one gift that looked a little nicer. Paddy's Market was all indoors, with booths set up a little like a trade-show. Aisle after aisle we wandered looking at all the different merchandise. (It was a great activity for the rainy-morning we had.)

I realized after visiting these two very touristy markets, that I am a little more like my mother than I thought -- I really liked the shopping! And I felt like I needed to bring home something for everyone . . . but I didn't and I'm sorry.

William ended up with a stuffed kangaroo and a kangaroo book, and a kangaroo T-shirt and a koala puzzle. I missed him and it was his birthday, what can I say!