Friday, January 31, 2014

Last Romantic Day of our Big Sur Vacation

If you missed the first day of our trip (to Carmel, Highway 1, and Big Sur), check it out HERE. And the second day (to San Simeon, Cambria, and then back to Big Sur) HERE.

Sunday morning we woke up and packed up our tent. I know I am always the one documenting things by way of photographs, but I promise I'm an expert "Tent Taker-Downer" and "Tent Putter-Upper". Don't you like my fancy titles? Feel free to be impressed. In all actuality, I took the entire tent down by myself, while hubby deflated our mattress, and then he just came and made it fit in the bag (I'm really bad at that part! Every time I fold it - it's too big to fit!).

Then we hopped in the car and started our journey back to Carmel for Starbucks and breakfast sandwiches.
We spent the morning on the beach. We probably spent an hour or two just walking around the beach. It was the most perfect weather - probably mid 60's. We SERIOUSLY lucked out!
We walked from one end of the beach to the other (probably a couple miles!):
As we walked, we looked at houses we'd want to buy when we retire. Both my hubby and I DREAM about retiring in one of those homes on the ocean.
At the end of the little strip of sand were rocks with a few small tide pools, and then once you crossed that - there was a beautiful little strip of beach that was completely empty and private. We spent a good amount of time hanging out there!
We hadn't planned on spending so much time on the beach. Initially we thought we'd go for about 30 minutes and then get back in the car and spend the day exploring other things - but it was too much fun and the weather was so perfect - we ended up throwing out our plans and just enjoying our last few hours together!
Here was that little private stretch of sand:
We couldn't pass up an opportunity to write our names in the sand! Unfortunately, we weren't smart and wrote the names in a way that when we tried to photograph them, we kept casting a shadow over our names. So this is the best photo we could get!
After our Carmel Beach walk, we got back in the car and drove home. We drove through Salinas (where John Steinbeck was born and raised). We then came home, unpacked the car, and showered. 

And then we were reunited with our kids!!! 

It was such a great weekend, filled with romance, time, and friendship - laughter and bonding! It ended quickly, but it's so important to a marriage to nurture that relationship. I've said this before, but my kids some day are going to have their own families...at some point we're going to retire...and my husband is going to be the one left by my side. And I want him there. So my job as his wife is to carve out time to nurture our marriage so that we can be married for the REST OF OUR LIVES. 

It's hard to carve out the time, but I am so thankful that my brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law gave us the gift of time! 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Big Sur, San Simeon, and Cambria - Dating my Husband

If you missed our first day in Big Sur, check out THIS post.

Saturday morning we woke up to the Pacific Ocean. We laid in bed for a little while and just listened to the waves crashing. We were both pretty tired, as we had been up for a few hours in the middle of the night after my "An animal is crawling on our tent" debacle. We mapped out our day, once we woke up. Our view from our bed at Kirk Creek Campground:
It was pretty chilly in the morning, but considering it was January in Big Sur - we really lucked out. It was probably only in the 40's or 50's.
The very first thing on our agenda was to drive up the coast to get breakfast and coffee. We had planned on going to Hearst Castle later in the day, so we drove South on the 1 and stopped about 14 miles North of Cambria, California at the Coastal Trail, to see the Elephant Seal Colony. There are hundreds and hundreds of elephant seals birthing and mating in the rookery. We were super fascinated with the male to female ratio, as there are hardly any males. There were lots of pups and still some pregnant females. Apparently the males start mating about three weeks after a female gives birth. Crazy! 
They do this hilarious thing where they splash sand on themselves, so all you see is sand flying in the air all over:
We only meant to stop for a few minutes, but we were cracking up at this one particular male, who just kept trying to find females to mate with. The ones who bit him or put up a fight made him try harder, but eventually he'd roam back down the sand to find some other poor female. (Bet you didn't know you were going to get an "Elephant Seal Mating Lesson" when you stopped by The Howard Bunch...did you?).
 Afterwards, we continued our drive up the coast to Cambria, California. The weather was just breathtaking!
Our guidebook didn't go all the way to Cambria so we had to just drive around and find a good restaurant. We finally got service on our cell phone, so I was able to look up a restaurant and we stumbled upon the Redwood Cafe in Cambria. We sat outside on the patio (it was in the 60's at this point) and had eggs benedict, french toast, and - most importantly - lots of coffee! It was delicious!
After breakfast we went back to San Simeon (we had passed San Simeon to get to breakfast) and went to Hearst Castle. I've been before, but Mr. Howard had never been! We took the Grand Rooms Tour and had a great time (although hubby would have liked to do the Upstairs Suite Tour as well...had we known we could have handled two back-to-back tours...we totally would have done that!). The picture below was taken outside of the Assembly Room:
These are the spectacular views that William Randolph Hearst and his wife, Millicent, and later his mistress Marion Davies got to wake up to every morning:
Their pool is spectacular:
More views:
Hubby and I both liked the indoor pool better than the outdoor one. It was pretty darn spectacular:
Here's the view after our tour, when we went back to the coast. This is taken from the bottom of the hill. You have to board a bus to go to the top of Hearst Castle. Can you see it at the very top middle? William Hearst never called it a castle because he already had a castle in Wales; he formally named it "La Cuesta Enchantada" or The Enchanted Hill, and referred to it as "The Ranch." But afterwards, it became known as the castle because of how it looked from San Simeon.
After our Hearst Castle tour, we went to the French Corner Bakery in Cambria for lunch. Hubby had a hot pastrami (bottom right) and I had an Italian meatball sandwich. Holy moly deliciousness. 
We had originally planned on going back to the same campground that we had stayed at the night before, but hubby and I decided in the morning that we wanted to try another site - so we could get a better feel for Big Sur and could come back to visit with friends and family. We researched a few different ones and settled on Pfeiffer Big Sur - because it was a little more "in town." There was a restaurant right at the campground, a gift shop, a grocery store, and there were good hikes right there. The one we had stayed at the night before had nothing near it at all (no store...no cell phone reception...no restaurant), which was perfect as a date spot - but wouldn't work if we wanted to bring the kids.
We got there at about 4pm and set up our site. This one was definitely not on the coast. Views of ocean were replaced by beautiful redwoods. And I liked it. 
First we hiked/walked back to the restaurant through the redwoods (it was maybe a mile) at Pfeiffer Big Sur Lodge. We started with the Fried Zucchini, which was like no fried zucchini I had ever had. It almost tasted like it was beer battered. It was delicious. I had the Fish and Chips and hubby had a Black and Blue Burger. Everything was AMAZING.
Here was the zucchini. Mmm.
And then we decided to go on a hike to Pfeiffer Falls. It started out in daylight and ended in complete darkness. Hubby and I have always wanted to do a night hike, so we can now cross that off our bucket list.
Here was us at the Falls. Can you see how COMPLETELY DARK it is?!?
We never did see the falls (although I googled pictures when we got home so I could see what it looked like) because it was so dark. I took a video at the top of the Falls, because it was just too darn funny that it was SOOO dark. I don't think I was prepared for that. Darkness in a city is SO different than darkness amidst the redwoods. And we didn't have a moon at all, so that made a difference. The sky was just filled with beautiful stars, which I have to say was mostly not scary - but just VERY romantic. We were definitely the only ones on the trails for miles!

Despite the mostly romantic hike, I got spooked a few times. I saw the signs that said there were mountain lions in the area and still kept it together - maybe just walked a little faster. I really was doing well until my very supportive, loving, team-playing partner and husband mentioned to me that it felt a little like the forest in the Blair Witch Project. Ummmmm. Are you kidding me?!? Obviously, you can tell that he just loves me SOO much that he wanted me to touch him every second of our 3 mile hike - because there was now NO way I was going to even be an arms distance away from him. I pretty much wrapped my whole body around him the entire rest of the hike - so that he'd get attacked by the scary organ eating monster before me, I mean, so that I could protect him if anything came our way. 

We got back and had wine, played more games, and I gave him his Valentine's Day present (which I'll share soon with you!). We slept cuddled in the forest!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Camping Date Night in Big Sur

I mentioned last week that Mr. Howard and I had not been away by ourselves since the twins were born - mostly because we didn't have anyone who could really watch them for multiple days. I always feel like I'm burdening my mom because she already watches them one day a week for us (every week) and my sister works so much and so hard. But my brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law kept offering when they lived with us, so we finally took them up on the offer.

Can I just start by saying it was UHHHHH-MAAAZZZZING! I literally could not list enough adjectives to describe how truly spectacular it was. In some ways, it was even better than our honeymoon - because THIS time we actually appreciated how SPECIAL  it is. When we were married and didn't have kids together, we took our time together for granted. We didn't appreciate or savor the silence (I remember being irritated with the long flights and layovers- now I dream about long flights with nothing but a book and my husband!) and the flexibility we had to just pick up and do anything we wanted.

I wanted this trip to be really romantic and special and it really was. I seriously felt like a honeymooner (although I did want to tell every person with a baby near us that we, too, had kids at home. It's sort of an illness I have. Does anyone else do this?!?). We packed SOOO much into three days that I won't be able to blog it all in one post; I'll need to break it apart.


Friday, we woke up early, sent the kids to school, packed our car, and got on the road. We stopped at Starbucks first and then spent the car ride up talking, laughing, and sharing all sorts of stories we've been stocking up on until we could have the time to do them justice. We also mapped out some things we wanted to do in Carmel and Big Sur and read our guide book!

We stopped in Carmel at the Rio Grill for lunch. It was recommended in our guide book and goodness gracious was it worth getting off Highway 1 for! We split the artichoke (marinated and fire-roasted with sun-dried tomato aioli) and then split two entrees - smoked tri tip sandwich and Salmon BLT - so that we could get to taste a lot of stuff. Oh my goodness. Everything was amazing, but the salmon BLT was like nothing I had ever tasted before. The salmon literally melted in your mouth.
Afterwards we got back on the road, but stopped frequently to take in the beautiful views. It took us a LONG time to get up the coast, because we kept stopping to just sit and breath in the views.  
We were usually by ourselves on a lot of our stops and when that would happen, we'd take a seat and just sit and whale watch. We saw several whales on our stops!
 Finally in the early afternoon we arrived to our campsite, Kirk Creek Campgrounds. This was our site. Can you see the ocean in the background?!? I wish I could make it be a little bluer so you could see it better in the photos. It was BREATHTAKING in person!
I think I mentioned this before, but we decided to make our trip a little more cozy and romantic and a little less "just camping," so we substituted a few of our more normal camping things, for comfort and - let me tell you - I'm never going back on the inflatable mattress. I slept beautifully both nights and did not feel like I was camping one tiny bit. (We have a car power adapter for our car - so that we can inflate our mattress, use our coffee maker, etc.):
These photos don't do our site justice because the sky was so white. But that is the Pacific Ocean right there! So perfect!
We looked a little silly with only two of us camping in our three room tent - but, hey, we're a family of five and I was not going to go buy a tent for one trip. We joked that we could set up a sitting room, our bedroom, and then a changing room. Ha!
This was the view from our bed:
And a look at our set up:
When I told people we were going camping, a few people looked at me like I was nuts. "Camping? Really?" When I told them we wanted to do something totally romantic, their faces grew serious. "But CAMPING? Why not a hotel?" We've done that. We do it all the time. We wanted something super special. Something a little more adventurous. And certainly, sleeping under the stars with the Pacific Ocean at your doorstep ranks up there on my top 10 list of things I've done with my husband. This was the first time I've ever fallen asleep to the sound of the waves crashing and woken up to them. In the middle of the night, I forgot where I was and was completely lulled by the waves.
When we arrived at our site and got everything ready to go, we set up our chairs facing the ocean and just talked! You could hear the waves of the ocean crashing on the rocks and smell the fresh air. It was magical.
In the evening, hubby and I went for a drive down the coast and stopped at this magical spot:
We stayed for about 30 minutes and we could have stayed for another two hours. I wanted to watch the sun set right there, but we had dinner to get to!
Have you ever tried to take a selfie with a huge DSLR. Ha! Pretty comedic.
My handsome hubby. Can I confess something to you? Get ready for some SUPER sappiness. He still makes my heart go pitter patter. 13 years, four babies, lots of heartache, ups and downs in our marriage, compromise, vacations, losing a child, pain, stomach flu's, laughter, dances, weddings, birthdays, fights, sadness, silliness and so much more - and he is still the one I'd choose to spend the rest of my life with if I could choose all over again. We don't have the perfect marriage; but there's no one I'd rather work at it with. He gets me: he understands my sarcasm; he laughs at my silliness; and he appreciates that I love HARD. I give my heart freely in everything I do (my work, my family, my friends) and he protects, nurtures, and soothes my heart when I get hurt.  He supports me when I feel like I might fall; and he defends me when he feels like I'm being wronged. He adores me. He tells me I'm beautiful even when I've just had a baby and feel the opposite of beautiful.  He is my equal and I want to do anything I can to honor him and love him and make him happy.
After our drive down the coast, we went to Nepenthe in Big Sur. My best friend had recommended it and there are two pages devoted to it in our guide book. Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles were the original owners of this restaurant before it was a restaurant and it is rich in history! The views are spectacular and the food was amazing! Here's the view from the restaurant:
And the view from the other side of the restaurant:
Here's what our table looked like. It was super romantic, candle lit, and just spectacular:
This is a dark photo, but I was trying to show you the sunset through our tables. Gorgeous:
We had such amazing food. We split a bowl of clam chowder with delicious bread. Hubby had their famous Ambrosia Burger (ground steak sandwich, served on a French roll with swiss cheese, and their famous Ambrosia Sauce)
And I had their Pan-Seared Albacore Tuna (served on green tea soba noodles and Asian veggies with sesame-chili vinaigrette garnished with wasabi tobiko caviar). Can you see my fork shadow in the photo? It smelled so amazing, I could hardly wait to take the picture - so I could dive in. Ha!
After dinner, we got a little bit of cell phone reception, so we called the kids, while we sat on the patio. 

And then went on a little walk to the Nepenthe Store:
When we got back, we set up our tent with a few games and our lantern:
I googled some fun "Date Night" games to play that had racier twists and we played those when it got dark. But, before-hand, we played Banana Grams. Hubby kept making fun of me because I literally lost every game (until the last night when I started kicking some bootie!) and I'm an English Teacher. I told him if we had played a game of interpreting literature and poems, writing essays, and deep critical thinking about text - I'd rock it. But building words with 22 letters isn't easy for me. I have a great vocabulary, but all I can think of once those letters get dumped in front of me are words like "at", "is", "of", and short one syllable words. Ha!
For some other game ideas, google "couples' date night games" and you'll find all sorts of variations on simple games to make them more romantic. That's what I did beforehand. I brought a deck of cards and then printed a few games too. We also brought a few adult-only card games to play that I picked up at Spencer's. We brought plastic champagne glasses and had champagne in bed while being silly with games! Such fun.

Funny story. I am a LIGHT sleeper. I wake up at the drop of a hat at the slightest noise. So at about midnight, I was woken up by some rustling and what sounded like an animal nearby. I woke my husband up (because I'm a frady cat) and he told me it was nothing and to go to sleep. (He's used to my frady cat ways by now). At 1:30am, I shot straight up because the animal I had heard rustling around earlier was now climbing on our tent. Let that sink it for a second. IT WAS CLIMBING ON OUR TENT. I literally screamed. Can you imagine waking up to THAT? Oops. Well...guess what? It wasn't an animal. I know, I'm a dork. It was the wind. We hadn't tied down our tent cover straps and the wind was rippling across our tent. So at 1:30 in the morning, we got out of our tent and started tying down all the straps. Well, Mr. Howard tied down the straps, while I took pictures. You know, for documenting purposes. 
To read parts 2 and three of our journey, follow the links below:

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