With our trip to California drawing to a close, I'm sitting in our hotel room in Cambria, catching the ever fading glimpses of the ocean fade to blackness, and smiling.
It's been a great visit.
If nothing else, this trip has solidified a very solid truth for Ed and me - we are Californians at heart and, someday, we'll be back. It's not that we're unhappy in Arizona or with our choice to move there. It was the right decision at the right time and is a place we'll live comfortably for many years.
But? It doesn't have the family and beauty we feel certain we need in our life in a significant way.
It the interim, though, these family visits are the perfect way to help us appreciate the best of both worlds.
We started with a trip to my parents in Southern California, to begin the holidays. This part of the holidays is always a bit more crammed, more full of last minute shopping, and with visiting of family and friends,
with very few minutes (it seems) to spare.
But, worth every minute.
While all of it was wonderful, one of the highlights was definitely spending time with our always growing, changing and being amazing niece.
Even though we'd just seen her at Thanksgiving, it seemed like she was even more talkative, animated, and imaginative than before. Many a wonderful moment was spent singing, reading and playing with her.
Christmas itself was much like always, as our family lives by our traditions and stick pretty religiously to them every year. We shook things up a little, watching Miracle on 34th Street instead of It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve, but still stuck with Christmas morning stockings,
and relaxed present opening.
to play food and puzzles.
Inevitably, at the end of the night, though, she spent an hour playing with a sock monkey she already had, and the armchair covers from my parents' couch, putting her monkey to sleep again and again while singing to him, while her shiny new toys sat unused. She followed up by having Ed lie down and putting him to sleep under that same armchair cover and with the same goodnight song. So, so cute. She'll surely get lots of fun out of her new toys eventually :).
Early on the 26th, we headed off for phase two of our Christmas trip, up the central coast to Cambria, where my mother-in-law lives. We made the excellent decision, in light of a very crowded house, to rent a room at the Castle Inn, right off the beach, which made this both a vacation and a family trip.
The scenery in Cambria is really unparalleled anywhere and has to be one of my favorite parts of this state and probably the world. The match of ragged coastline with rolling hills seems to match my preferences perfectly, and looked all the sweeter when comparing them to our flat, arid desert.
One of the highlights was definitely the hike we did up to Bishop's Peak in San Luis Obispo. While Tom and Irma decided on shopping instead, the rest of us headed out on a hike (after a morning spent opening stockings and presents). It was definitely challenging at times, so Noemi and Sabine did a short loop instead, while Keven, Ed and I headed for the top. It was so nice to be on "regular" trails again, devoid of the harsh landscape I'd been experiencing lately.
We were reveling in the amazing views and landscape as we climbed.
In a little less than an hour, we were standing at the top, feeling wonderful.
Of course, Ed had to get himself just a little bit higher :).
Afterwards, we hurried down, doing some running when it wasn't too rocky (I especially loved the ending section that had these sort of speed bumps interspersed on the downhill, launching myself off each one. Apparently, Ed did the same thing. Something about California trails make me feel like a little kid when I'm running, in the best possible sense. It was just so much fun.
Afterwards, we headed into town for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and a little shopping, and then had a low key evening.
Today, most of us started off with another walk along the boardwalk (right off of where our room is). Ed left way earlier for a 20 miler (his marathon is in less than a month!), and we actually ran into him while we were out there.
(ignore the photo quality - at least you can see the beautiful day and my lovely sister-in-law, Irma).
Afterwards, we headed out for another wonderful California experience - wine tasting! We hit up three wineries on this quite cold December day, and had a great time. It brought back lots of memories of Italy for Ed and me with the rolling landscape.
The best tasting room was this New Zealand inspired winery that we loved.
Especially because of the roaring fire they had going inside.