Monday, January 31, 2011

Hearst Castle

Jill's Journal: The opulence of Hearst Castle in San Simeon certainly rivals the opulence of the Vanderbilt homes on the East Coast. But where the Vanderbilt estates are exquisitely formal, Hearst Castle brings a touch of wonderful California casualness to all the surrounding luxury. That is, if one can glean any sense of casualness among the centuries-old art and antiquities. Even many of the ceilings throughout the mansion and other buildings are antique art imported from around the world. I’ve been here a couple of times in the past, but there’s always something new to “oooh and aaah” over and the girls had never seen it before, so we couldn't be this close and not make the trip.

William Randolph Hearst built his publishing, political, and entertainment empire in the early 1900s and spent 28 years building this magnificent estate. The “Enchanted Hill” gardens and grounds originally spread over 127 of his 250,000+ acres, all overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The living quarters are comprised of 165 elaborate rooms, each more impressive than the last with a European and Mediterranean art collection that has to rival some of the world’s great museums. It is utterly spectacular. He continually entertained Hollywood’s elite in the home’s 90,000 square feet and 56 bedrooms, including celebrities like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Greta Garbo. Other guests included Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes. The grounds sported everything from a zoo (complete with everything from polar bears to zebras) to Hearst's own private airport.

One of Erika’s favorite subjects in school is history and she is especially loving learning about ancient Egypt. She was thrilled to learn this Egyptian antiquity is 3,500 years old and from her favorite Egyptian time period. She’s still talking about it.

Madelyn and Victoria definitely preferred the Neptune Pool over any statues, but not because of the ancient Roman columns imported from Italy. They were simply hoping to be invited to take a swim.

The elaborate indoor pool would have suited the littler girls just fine too. They told me later they wouldn’t have been picky.

Our very theatrical and memorable tour guide, who was also quite dapper (that word is just for you, Kristi!).

And three little girls loving the bus ride down the hill with Kristi and Beppy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Big Seven

Jill's Journal: I still haven’t figured out how our eldest has had the gall to grow so fast and already hit the ripe old age of seven when it feels like we just had her yesterday. But, grow she has and somehow seven years have already passed.

Erika’s been looking forward to this birthday for months. So looking forward to it, in fact, that she had the entire day meticulously planned out from dawn to bedtime, including giving us a schedule and menu for her preferred breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Since a birthday only comes once a year, we did our best to indulge her. I think it’s safe to say she had a pretty fabulous day.

We were blessed to have Beppy make the three-hour drive to join us and the party also included Kristi, Adam, and Uncle Adam. A few months ago, we never dreamed we’d be around family for birthday celebrations, so this one (and Madelyn’s in December) was pretty special.

Erika had several choices of how to spend her birthday afternoon and she chose the SLO Children’s Museum! It was chaotic and crowded on a weekend day after being so peaceful and fun earlier in the week, but the girls all enjoyed it just the same. Apparently so did Beppy. :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wine Tasting

Jill's Journal: Sometimes you just need a grown-up day. What better way to do that than to take advantage of this wonderful wine culture here on the Central Coast? And what could be more fun than wine tasting? I mean, really!

Winery #1: Adam, Adam, Kristi, and me. The only one missing is Rob. Brother Adam (as opposed to Kristi's Adam) made the five-hour trip to spend the weekend with us all...what fun we always have together. It has nothing to do with the alcohol. I swear.

Winery #2 (or was it #3?)...same cast of characters, perhaps looking a tiny bit worse for the wear? By the end of the afternoon, we'd laughed hysterically, sampled around 20 different wines, and all had our definite preferred vintages. And God bless Rob and the girls for serving as designated drivers. :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles

Jill's Journal: The girls and I found a little gem today: the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles, just north of Templeton. This whole area of the Central Coast area is a big horse/cattle ranching area, now better known for wine, and is rightfully proud of its ranching history. The Pioneer Museum traces that history and is positively bursting at the seams with artifacts from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s.

Many of the outdoor exhibits, like an old city merry-go-round, farming equipment, and an 1886 schoolhouse especially interested the girls. But what captured them the most, hands down, was a two-seater outhouse (shown) and a replica of the old city jail.

Anyone who has ever driven California’s venerable 101 freeway will also appreciate this sign, from back in the days when the 101 was one of the state’s original highways as automobiles were just starting to catch on. The sign is porcelain-on-steel and is littler than today’s signs as drivers went much slower and could actually read small signage. How times have changed!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Life’s a Beach

Jill's Journal: I love the beach. I hate the beach. I love the beach. I hate the beach. I love the beach. I hate the beach. I love the beach. I hate the beach.

If the beach didn’t have that pesky little thing called sand, it would be just about the most wonderful place in the world. And really, I don’t mind the sand AT the beach one bit. It’s part of the fun. What I mind is the sand that comes WITH you when you leave the beach. Especially with three children.

Our kids, like just about all kids (I suspect), don’t give the sand issue a second thought. They definitely do think the beach is just about the most wonderful place in the world. And that’s a good thing.

They’d been positively itching to go back to the Pacific, particularly Oceano, where vehicles are welcome. So we loaded them up in Daddy’s truck (which is a treat for them in itself) to partake in this particular eight-mile long stretch of sand dunes and ocean. A few miles down the shoreline, much farther than we’d dared take the minivan a few days ago, we stopped for a minute as several ATVs were headed right into our path… and we promptly got stuck in the soft, fine sand. The girls thought it was most amusing; Rob not quite as much at the time. A shovel, a couple of planks of wood, and four-wheel drive did nothing to help, but a nice couple in a little Toyota pickup stopped and helped pull the big, bad Ford out. Happily, we were laughing about it within 30 seconds of getting out. And thank goodness we did get out!

We found a nice spot and let the girls play to their hearts’ content. They rolled in the sand, buried themselves in the sand, and basically succeeded in getting sand over just about every centimeter of their bodies. They had a ball. Before leaving, they got to play in the water once again. And watch the sunset over the horizon. Life is good.

I realize it might look odd to be wearing winter-type clothing while barefoot at the beach. The weather may be beautiful, but it’s not quite warm enough for bathing suits when you add in ocean breezes. One of these days, we’ll hit the shore in beachwear instead of sweaters, but for now, we’ve got to take what we can get. The girls, of course, wouldn’t care if they had to wear parkas and mittens if it meant they could be at the beach. Now if only we could do something about all that sand…

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

San Luis Obispo’s Children’s Museum

Jill's Journal: Three dressed-up little girls making a joyful noise…

A year-long children’s museum membership (with reciprocity around the country) was some of the best money we’ve ever spent. The $128 for the whole family has paid for itself a few times over and we’ve still got a few months left. These educational indoor playgrounds are the equivalent of Disneyland to our girls. Of course, they haven’t actually been to Disneyland yet, so hopefully they’ll still feel that way after a visit to the Magic Kingdom someday.

There are two of these children’s museums in this immediate area and today we hit the one in San Luis Obispo, just south of Templeton. It’s the smallest one we’ve ever been to, but it is very well-done and the girls had an absolute ball. In fact, the museum closed early today, so the girls didn’t get to experience the entire thing and quickly informed me they would really, really like to make a return visit. I’d better not check this off the “list” yet.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mailbox Humor

Jill's Journal: We’ve driven past this ramshackle group of mailboxes just about every day we’ve been here in Templeton and they crack me up They’re just so…slapdash, so haphazardly teetering on their crooked posts in the ground. I’m growing quite fond of them. :)

On another note, the weather here is to die for. The girls and I were at a playground today and it was not only warm, but almost hot. Our “winter” started the day after Labor Day – that’s when it first got cold enough for jackets in the Northeast. That’s an awfully early start in the year to cold weather, so this premature end to winter for us isn’t hurting my feelings one bit. Yay for California!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Wonderfulness

Jill's Journal: This was the best kind of weekend, full of fun and adventure and lots of accomplishment. The only thing missing was relaxation, but we don’t ever expect that to happen with three little kids, so we don’t even miss it anymore. Well, okay, we do miss it a little. :)

We started the weekend at Pismo Beach, where cars were lined up along the road at Monarch Grove. This unusual spot at the south end of Pismo, well away from the popular pier, is a pine, eucalyptus, and cypress tree grove which over 20,000 monarch butterflies are currently making their winter home.

The monarchs hang in clusters of hundreds in the trees. Can you see them in this picture? When their wings are closed, they look like leaves.

The girls were pretty fascinated and especially enjoyed the kid-size telescopes which afforded closer looks.

And then it was off to the beach. We loved a beautiful little walk through some serious scenery which opened up onto the Pacific. And the sand here is exquisite: soft and pillowy, just like a beach should be.

Is it a beach or a giant sandbox?

Random crazy people entertained us with flips and other acrobatics down the sand dunes.

We pulled the girls away from the sand long enough to snap a group shot on one of the cool trees.

Oceano was another of our weekend destinations. Here anyone can drive on the beach, ride horse on the beach, etc. Here’s the minivan rockin’ the beach! I never thought those words would come out of my mouth (the minivan part, not the vehicle-on-the-beach part).

The weekend also included a community market in Morro Bay…

Rob super excited (and deservedly so) about some major progress on fifth wheel projects…

Adam building a run-in-shed for Kristi’s horse…

And some cute caterpillars built out of egg cartons by three little girls. How they love art projects, which is most assuredly not one of my talents, but I’m working on it. This sassy little guy is Madelyn’s creation.

What a good weekend, indeed. The only thing missing was Kristi, who worked long nursing hours all weekend long. Happily, we’ll make up for it next weekend.

Friday, January 21, 2011

71 Degrees in January!

Jill's Journal: It was a bee-u-ti-ful day to be outside and we made the most of it. Seriously, I glanced at the temperature gauge once and it said 71 degrees. Blue skies and sunshine. You just can’t beat that in January. There are definite benefits to California.

We went on a wonderful little hike through the hills in something called Stadium Park (look at those amazing trees in the picture!) and the girls did fabulously. A few months ago, a certain now-3-year-old had a harder time keeping up with her sisters and often asked to be carried on hikes or walks. Today, she was awesome with her short little legs pumping furiously to keep up and nary a complaint to be found. This gives us great hope to be able to tackle bigger and better challenges in the coming months! Very exciting.

The girls got rewarded for the positive little hike with lots of playground time at the lovely Atascadero Lake Park, which we were pleased to find has one of the nicer sets of playground equipment around. We had happy, happy little girls.

Oh! Kristi introduced us to her piglet-raising neighbor, who was sweet enough to let the girls pet her baby pigs today. The folks had two litters of piglets; one litter only a few days old and orphaned and the other litter a bit older and still with their mama. The girls sure enjoyed the cute, greedy little babies and quickly found one worthy of the name “Wilbur,” as in the Charlotte’s Web star.

Sunshine, hiking, play time, and farm animals = a great day!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It’s Time

I’ll be the first to admit we haven’t done nearly as much sightseeing/exploring in our weeks in California as we’ve done in, oh, every other place. It’s been so nice to relax a little and be with family. And, on even more of a plus side, we’ve gotten into a great rhythm with school and have really knocked a lot of school work out.

But, I’m starting to feel it’s time to stop being so lackadaisical about these beautiful areas and start getting out more again. I’m also feeling a little guilty about not taking advantage of being in such a great spot, central to so many fun things to see. I think this weekend is the perfect time to get back into the groove.

(Strangely, just before I hit “post,” Rob said the exact same thing to me that I’d already typed. How nice is it to be on the same wavelength?)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Forgot…

Jill's Journal: I had forgotten how beautiful California sunsets can be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

James Dean and Cholame

Jill's Journal: In the middle of nowhere, on a highway with minimal traffic by California standards, is what is surely one of the most famous intersections of the last century. It was here that legendary actor James Dean, at the tender age of 24, collided with an even-younger college student in 1955. The blazing sun over the hills at the end of the day is blinding and while Dean’s last words to his surviving passenger were something to the effect of, “That guy’s got to see us,” the other driver, in a sturdy American car, did not. He supposedly turned right in front of Dean and his little Porsche Spyder. Dean was dead on arrival at the hospital in Paso Robles, a good 30 minutes away on modern roads.

The intersection was reshaped in the immediate years after the gruesome accident, with the harsh curve straightened out to avoid similar incidents. Today, on a barbed wire fence closest to the spot where Dean’s car came to rest, is a makeshift memorial with all sorts of interesting items ranging from cigarettes to old beer bottles and cans to 1950s-style sunglasses. There’s a plaque from Dean’s high school in Indiana and pictures of the accident scene, plus a number of coins and wilted bouquets.

About 900 yards west of the accident's location is a small parking lot with a memorial to Dean around a large “tree of heaven.” It's all located in a tiny town called Cholame, which consists of one beaten-down restaurant and a few scattered ranches. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking much notice of this town --then or now-- without its macabre day of 55 years ago, but it made for an interesting afternoon all these years later.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Morro Bay

Jill's Journal: What a perfectly splendid way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The little, two-lane highway Kristi and Adam live on practically dead-ends at the ocean about 25 minutes down the road. After some delectable fish tacos for lunch while outdoors in sight of the ocean, the beach at Morro Bay was beckoning.

Erika met an owl named “Gooch” on the way.

This really, really big rock looks deceptively small in this photo, but see the vehicles in the bottom right corner? Yes, it’s a reeeeeally big rock. First named by explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542, Morro Rock was a sacred place for Indians long before that. It’s sometimes called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.”

A fun family shot.

Madelyn was like a little mountain goat bounding over the rocks on the way to the jetty. She was even more sure-footed than the dog!

And speaking of the dog, Meisje was so eager to hit the beach…far more eager than Adam, who cracked me up by worrying about his white legs in this photo. I believe he stopped worrying when I rolled up my pants and he saw how white mine are. Hey, we've been in cold weather since Labor Day!

Meisje soon became a wet, sandy dog, but a very happy one. I imagine she’ll be getting hosed down or at least toweled down tonight.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have dipped their toes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific in their lifetimes, much less in the span of a few months. We are so blessed. No matter how much we say it, the girls don’t quite comprehend yet how fortunate we are to be on this journey; I hope they’ll understand someday.

Victoria dove into the chilly water a little more than any of us expected! Luckily, Daddy’s sweatshirt was almost a perfect fit…almost.