Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.


Overcoming: Lessons of the Past Four Years

A few nights ago, while Adam was away on business, he posted a timehop message on facebook. I normally think those posts are silly, but this one affected me a little differently.

It always hits around Landon's birthday and lingers through February that there will always be a gap of time in my life where huge events were taking place, despite my inability to be part of them. Of course, the whole experience is never far from my mind, but reading that it was just about four years to the day from when I left the hospital really put me right back in that time.

There are a few things that really stick out to me about the day I left Frazier Rehab. First, I accomplished my goal and walked out of the hospital that day. It wasn't easy. As a matter of fact, that short walk was exhausting, but I was so damn proud of myself for doing it without a wheelchair or walker or someone guiding me. Secondly, that was the day I really became a Mom. About 30 minutes after we arrived home, my mother-in-law brought Landon to our house so we could all be a family for the first time. It was something I really wanted, to be home and be with my Son, for us to finally be a family, but caring for a baby who was two months old was so hard given my physical condition. I remember that first day, trying to walk with him in my arms from my bedroom to his room to change his diaper. I remember when I got him onto his changing pad, I was exhausted and sweating and briefly thought maybe I couldn't do it after all. Thirdly, how physically and emotionally painful life was back then. I know it wasn't the first day I was home, but I remember a day or two later when I decided to try and take a shower at home. Until then, Adam had been bathing me at the hospital while I sat on a stool. So we took off all my bandages and I got into the shower and immediately started crying uncontrollably. I was terrified of the pain the water was going to cause when hitting my wound on my leg, I was scared to try and wash my c-section which was still open a bit, and I was convinced water might go into my tracheotomy. Instinctively, Adam jumped into the shower with all of his clothes to hold me and I continued to sob on him for a good five minutes. Taking a shower, going to the bathroom, combing my hair... These wee all excruciatingly painful and near impossible in those early days at home. Not only that, but emotionally, it was absolutely overwhelming to the point that most of the time, I just had to stuff it all in a dark place and move on, otherwise it would consume me.

But as horrible as those first days were, it quickly got better. By the end of the next month, I wore heels (be them little ones) for Adam's grandfather's memorial and I remember feeling like myself a bit for the first time. The day all my wounds stop requiring dressings was one of the happiest days of my life and it wasn't too long until the only thing I needed to work on was regaining stamina and strength. In September 2012, only a year and half later, Adam and I traveled to Switzerland where I climbed all over mountains and hiked for hours. I was so proud of myself that entire trip and that I could keep up and was able to push myself to new limits. Had you told the Angela of four years ago that four years later, I would have been hiking along on the highest peak in the bay area, I would have never believed you, yet that is exactly how I spent this strange anniversary of sorts.

When I think to that day, I also cannot help but think about how much I've changed my life and how far I've come in the last four years. In many ways, I didn't start truly living until I almost didn't live. How ironic, right? It's no doubt that this is the blessing from all the tragedy. In the few days I've had to reflect on that day four years ago, I've thought of a number of things that I've learned, and I mean really learned in my soul, since then and how greatly my life has changed. In honor of these last four years, and the strides we've made, I thought I would share them with you. They are as follows...

The Beatles were right, all you need is love. It is cliche, but it is true. Nothing else matters in life but love. Real, true love between two people is magical, but love comes in all sorts of ways and from all sorts of people. In children, in family, in friends, in pets, and even in strangers. In the four years since I left the hospital, we've sold our house and almost every worldly possession. We drove across the country last year with everything we owned in an 8x12 trailer. And you know what? I was the happiest I have ever been. Having almost nothing, allowed me to see things differently. Now the idea of a big house with lots of possessions feels to me more of a burden than a blessing. I have learned that material things are the least important things we can posses in this life.

If you don't like something, change it. Yes it is that easy! If there is something in your life you don't like, the problem is simple; It's you! I know it is a hard truth, but there is almost nothing in this life you don't have the control to change. It might take a lot of hard work or a lot of sacrificing, but 99% of the time, it is possible and you are in the one in the drivers seat. Determination is one of the greatest qualities you can posses. I have learned that if you want something badly enough, determination will get you there and the only person stopping yourself is the person in the mirror.

Enjoy, the little things in life. It isn't something that happened immediately from leaving the hospital, but over the years nothing has brought me more deep down, heart filling happiness than some of the most small, mundane daily activities.  For example, every day that I get to pass these four palm trees on an alternative route home, they make me feel so incredible happy. I don't know what it is, but these palm trees are super tall and just kind of stick out in the middle of this neighborhood and whenever I see them, I can't help but smile. In the same way, we had a wonderful day last Saturday. We went to a beautiful state reserve on the coast. We spent a glorious day walking all along the water, watching whales, otters, and other sea-life, playing on the beach, and enjoying the outdoors, but my favorite part of the day was even more simple than that. That morning, while getting ready, Adam and I were discussing our dreams from the night before. During that conversation, he made a little comment that was so honest, unexpected, and hilarious that I was laughing until I cried. Despite our amazing day, those few minutes in our bathroom that morning were my favorite part of the day. I have learned that the things that give me the most pure joy and happiness in this life, are the most minute. Or as Landon's fortune cookie said tonight...

Don't waste too much time, wasting time. I'll admit I am guilty of wasting time, but I've learned over the years that wasting a little bit of time everyday ends up building very quickly and time is one thing we can never recoup. So what is wasting time? I think it's different for everyone, but I think universally, anything that doesn't make you happier or better in some way is a waste of time. The biggest culprit is TV. So many people watch hours of TV a day and I think if most people were honest, they would admit it doesn't make them any better or even happier at the end of the night. For Lent this year, I did something a little different and gave up TV (I usually try to do something instead). My intentions were to get back on track with reading the bible and learn to spend more quality time with my family at night. I also needed to study for my brokerage exam which I didn't want to try and fit in on top of all my shows. The outcome? I play games with my son at least three nights a week now. I've studied more than I ever would have with the TV on and, at the end of the night, I go to bed feeling accomplished and proud of how I've spent my day, not a little let down. I know I will watch TV again at some point, but this absence as really allowed me to focus on how many other ways I can best utilize my free time and all the great quality time I was negating in lieu of TV. So unless I get sick, I'm not sure I will ever catch back up with Nashville, Scandal, or Revenge and I really don't even care anymore what is going on in their make believe lives. Instead, I would rather live my life. I have learned that I am not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of wasting the time I have here on Earth.

The key to happiness is true gratitude. If I had only one wish, I would wish that everyone would be bestowed the gift of gratitude. In that way, everyone in the world could be happy, because happiness is the most fulfilling thing in life. And it really is a gift to be grateful for every second of every day. Expectations are toxic, the less we expect, the more grateful we can be when we do receive. This, more than any other concept, I am trying to teach and show this to Landon, but it is hard. I started by ridding him of the word "need". He would try to say, I "need" a toy or I "need" candy. Whenever he said that, I would make him recite the three things he actually, water, and shelter. Eventually, he learned to say 'want' instead of 'need' and then I moved on teaching him about expectations  and how we don't always get what we want. Well that was all fine and good until  one day he asked "Mom, what is shelter?" I couldn't help but laugh although I felt my well taught lesson was a little worthless. Still, trying to teach a four year old the different between wants and needs is something some 30 year olds still need a lesson in. The less we expect, the more grateful we become for what we do have and, in turn, the happier we become. I have learned that nothing is promised. That tomorrow is not guaranteed and that every second of every is a gift. A gift for which, I am most grateful!


Wine Country- So Much More Than Wine

I can't believe that I've been sharing about our life in California for over 6 months now and haven't talked about the biggest thing in Northern California and one of my favorite! Any wine lover who lives here can tell you that wine is plentiful and cheap (at least it can be). When we first arrived, I was a little disappointed that some of my favorite brands were impossible to find here. If it isn't a California wine, it tends to get snubbed in these parts. No big deal though, because it means I've had  to expand my repertoire and try out a bunch of new ones. The number of wines to try absolutely unending.

When people think of wine country, they normally think of Napa Valley, but the area has grown so large that Napa Valley is only a part of the large wine country that resides just north of San Francisco. I would like to say, since we've lived here, I've been to many wineries, but that just isn't the case. Having a young child doesn't make weekend wine outings very easy and working means I have to take a day off to go during the week. So, although visiting the wine capital of America was high on my to-do list when we arrived, I ended up having to wait a few months to be able to actually visit.

In December, once I accumulated an entire vacation day, I used it wisely by making my inaugural trip. Our wine loving friends were here and so together we made our very first visit to wine country and visited Chappellet in St. Helena. .We choose it for one reason and one reason alone.




And this was it on a cloudy, somewhat rainy day. The four of us took a small tour with one other family that was relaxed and intimate. We walked around the grounds learning all about wine and wine making with beautiful scenery in every direction and a multitude of wines for sipping. Afterwards, we slipped inside for a few more tastings. It was a great, first winery to visit in the area and it really set the standard high. Although I didn't leave with any must-have Chapellet wines, I guarantee the views don't get much better and it is a place I would recommend anyone in the area visiting.

When I started to plan my Dad's visit, I knew we had to do one of our favorite father/daughter things and visit a winery. Napa alone is home to over 500 wineries. Sonoma is too and that's not to mention all the other areas nearby. With well over 3,000 wineries and 1,500 tasting rooms to choose from, the problem actually becomes having too many choices. One day while searching for a Croatian restaurant in the area, I happened across someone talking about a Croatian Winery in Napa Valley. A short google search later and I knew I had found our winery. My Dad is proud of many things, but few more than his Croatian heritage. Being a first generation American, the "old country" was never home to him, but still holds a very special place in his heart. Case in point, below is one of my Christmas presents when I told my Dad I was starting a Christmas tree of ornaments from my travels.

So after our morning trip to Alcatraz, I had a big surprise I couldn't wait and share with my Dad. On our way there I decided to spill the beans that we were going to a winery, but I left the name of it a surprise. I wasn't sure if he had heard of it before or not. As soon as we pulled into the drive and he saw the sign, he knew where we were. Turns out he is a fan of their wine.

We made in just in time for our 90 minute tour and tasting which included learning all about their process of grape growing, wine making, and storing. The site is pretty small (at least it feels that way compared to Chappellet) and doesn't have nearly the scenic view. However, they have 4 other wineries in the area and over 330 acres in all. They also have a winery in...Croatia! We are planning a future family trip and we made sure to take note of its location to add it to our places to visit.

After a little tour of the grounds, we retreated into the library room for a wine and cheese pairing. I've just recently started to play around with different varieties of cheese and it is amazing how much a well paired cheese can alter the taste of the wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with a Sottocenere al Tartufo and the Chardonnay was paired with Point Reyes Toma and both were heavenly! Fancy names for cheese, but we learned they are all from Whole Foods and available for anyone to enjoy with their wine at home. I need to stop by a whole foods before I pop open my bottles. The most delicious of their wines is their sweet late-harvest blend called Violetta, named after Mr. Grgich's daughter. It's similar to an ice wine or dessert and is one wine even the beginner would love.

And while the wine was really good, it is the story behind of the man behind the wine that truly set Grgich apart. Miljenko Grgich left Croatia in the 50's when it was still part of the communist run Yugoslavia. Just a young man, with very little money he slowly made his way out of Croatia, through Germany, and Canada before coming to California to work for at a winery. When he came to America he was literally broke, with only a few dollars to his name, but his determination carried him through to success. In 1976, he was the head winemaker at Chateau Montelena when the winery decided to enter a blind wine tasting contest in Paris. The event, which later became known as The Judgement of Paris, was the single most important thing to ever happen to the wine industry in the United States, A panel of eleven judges, nine French, judged two categories, white and red wines. In both categories, the wines from California beat the French wines. The white that took home the prize, was a bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena Cardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich. With that competition, he not only put California on the map, but cemented his name in California wine history. On July 4, 1977, with only a hand shake between them, Mike Grgrich partnered up with Austin Hills and together they opened Grgich Hills.

Today, that bottle of '73 Chardonnay is in the Smithsonian and is considered one of the 101 objects that made America. Along with the bottle, Grgich's suitcase that he brought from Croatia and his signature beret are also on display. At 91 years old (almost 92) he is still an integral part of the winery, which he runs along side his daughter and nephew. Mike Grgich's story is the American dream at its best. It is one anyone can appreciate and respect, but I find a special joy knowing his struggle was very much the same as my family's who also came from Croatia. My great-grandfather was an illegal immigrant who snuck his way into the  "legals" line at Ellis Island, my Grandmother came over at 16 years old all by herself, and my Grandfather had his birth certificate changed at the local church so that at "16" (really 15) years old he could go to work at the Steel Mill to start supporting his family. His years of hard work and determination paid off, so much so that eventually he became the bank for neighbors looking to borrow money for a down payment on a house. All of this was done on a hand shake too, of course.

After visiting Grgich Hills, I had no doubt in my mind that I had found the perfect winery in California to be a member of. My Dad was generous enough to get the membership for me and so now we both have one for the other person. They are wonderful gifts! I know there over 3,500 wineries left to visit, but no winery will ever feel as special as Grgich Hills. I looked forward trying out many other wineries in the months and years ahead, but even more I cannot wait to share this gem with friends and family when they come to visit. In the year ahead, I look forward to visiting for my wine pickups, joining their anniversary party in July (38 years this year!), and bringing Landon for their old world grape stomping event in the Fall. Out of all the thousands of wineries, it almost seems like fate that brought me to find Grgich Hills and nothing else could compare then experiencing it for the first time with my Croatian Dad.



I was very excited for my Dad's first day in San Francisco. I knew I had some fun things planned, but even more importantly, I was super excited to spend the day with just myself and him. We got up early, took Landon to daycare, and headed downtown to catch the ferry to Alcatraz. Dad had mentioned two things he wanted to do during his visit; see the Redwoods and see Alcatraz. Alcatraz was one place we personally hadn’t visited yet so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard that tickets can book up weeks in advance, but I was able to book two tickets for Friday morning less than a week out. We had tickets for the 9:10 ferry (when you buy tickets you are only buying a ticket for the ride to the island). Once on the island, you have no designated time limit as long as you catch the last ferry back home which they make explicitly clear. Everything I had read said give yourself 3 hours including the 15-20 minute ferry each way. Wanting to fit in as much as we could into each day, I had given us exactly three hours. What I learned was that you need AT LEAST three hours, but could really use five or more to really see the entire island without feeling rushed. This time of year, the last ferry leaves at 4:30pm and I would advise booking your tickets for the morning (before noon) if at all possible to make the most of your day.

Alcatraz is owned by the California State Parks and despite a multitude of companies selling tickets, all tickets are actually purchased through Alcatraz Cruises as they are the only company that can actually dock on the island. Unless you are looking to buy an entire tour or a package, always get your tickets from Alcatraz Cruises which are $30 per person. From Pier 33, it’s a quick 15-20 minute ride on the large ferry complete with  a snack bar, bathrooms, and indoor or outdoor seating. It was a little chilly in the morning so we rode inside hoping to ride on the outside on the way back.

Once on the island, you are pretty much free to explore. Park rangers give a multitude of free tours throughout the day. A number of the tours are given of the island itself and its history of the island beyond the confines of it's famous prison detail. Separate tours are also given of the prison. All tours are free, but the caveat is that the tour times are not posted in advance so it is impossible to plan what tours to take until you are on site. That being said, if want to take certain tours, it is best to leave your schedule open and not have a set amount of time before you have to leave. When we arrived, a garden tour was getting ready to begin and, although that wasn't our number one interest, it was the only tour we knew we would have time for and we were told it made its way up to the prison at the top of the island so we joined it.

Although we are not avid gardeners, the tour was very interesting and we got our a lot more out of the island by learning about the other roles it has played. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information about the island and it's history. One of the most interesting items he shared was the Alcatraz was originally used as a fort. When the fort was being built, they made sure to build areas for canons to fire on any incoming ships. And since they were protecting themselves from invaders they knew there was a chance that the invaders would be firing on them. The entire island was just one large rock and so they had to bring in soil from nearby Angel Island to lay a better foundation around the fort in case a cannon ball came flying in. After all, a bunch of soil exploding is a lot safer than a bunch of rock shrapnel like this.

We learned a bit about the plant species that grows not only on Alcatraz, but all throughout the Bay Area. Ice plants, which are numerous in places like Point Reyes, are actually native to South Africa, but do very well in the climate of San Francisco. The island (and the area) are also home to the largest succulents that I've ever seen. It is obvious that they've been growing succulents here long before it was a fad.

The guide told us a bit about life on Alcatraz for the guards, many of whom lived on the island in a series of buildings beyond the prison walls. They had an entire community on the island which included apartments, a grocery store and even an activity center. He even talked about a bit about the American Indian occupation of 1969, which was something that I had never heard of before. Basically, in 1969 a bunch of American Indians took over the abandoned island to protest their treatment. The occupation lasted some 19 months before a series of mishaps, including a young child falling to their death and a number of fires, led to it breaking up. As the guide put it though, the occupation made an impression and things did get better for the American Indians after the event. Today, graffiti markings in a number of places and are few burned out buildings is the only remaining evidence of the event.

Beyond the Indians and the guards, we also got a small glimpse into Alcatraz as a military installation. We were shown how the island was laid out when it was used by the military. Although most of the military era buildings are now gone, he did a great job explaining how the fort was created and how life on Alcatraz functioned at the time. Three lucky officers had homes high on the island, one of them supposedly had these stairs commissioned in short form so that his small legged dog could use them. That being the case, they are aptly named, the puppy stairs. 

As interesting as the gardens tour was, and in full disclosure, we did end up breaking off when he took everyone over to the compost piles and started talking about worm farming. My Dad might be a farmer, but neither of us cared to devote time to learning the  art of worm farming. If time was no object, we would have stayed with them, but in the interest of our time, we broke off and made the last bit of the trek up to the prison on our own. Once inside the board of tour times didn't have any upcoming tours that would work so we opted instead for the audio guide which we received after being funneled through the showers.

Having used audio guides a number of places in my travels, I was pretty leery of it and somewhat disappointed we couldn't take a guided tour. I've always found that guides are so much more knowledgeable and entertaining. Plus, I've always hated sticking in a pair of headphones and cutting yourself off from the people you are with. For me, discussing and enjoying places together makes the experience that much richer. In this case, we didn't have much of a choice and it turned out to be a good thing, because the audio guide was wonderful! Definitely the best audio guide I've ever heard.

With easy and clear instructions on how to navigate through the prison, the voices weave you around, both inside and out. A number of former guard and inmates do all the narration and instead of a dry history lesson, a story unfolds as you stroll through the corridors. There are pictures of inmates, cells fully furnished, and items on display which allow you to complete the picture of the story being told to you. Despite walking around and sometimes bumping into a fellow tourist it feels more like a movie experience.

My favorite story was the Battle of Alcatraz where a prisoner made this bar spreader, overtook a guard, and started a standoff. I don't want to give away too many details or you'll have no reason to visit yourself, but let's just say that it ended with the Marines throwing grenades into the cell block.

The most famous story of Alcatraz though is the infamous Escape from Alcatraz made even more famous by the Clint Eastwood movie. I've never seen it, but now I want to see it. It was a pretty amazing escape attempt where three prisoners used spoons and a homemade drill to cut out the cement around their air vents. They then climbed up the air vents and onto the roof. Leaving the heads of dummies with real hair from the barber shop in their beds, it wasn't until the next morning that anyone even realized they were gone. The story is made all that more fascinating by the fact that no one really knows if they survived the journey back to the mainland. Although the odds are pretty improbable, you almost cannot help but to hope that they did.

The tour weaves you all along the cell block, through the administrative building, and even outside to a large terrace where it continues. I wasn't able to get any good pictures with my phone, but the terrace provides wonderful views of the city. This view however is one that the inmates never saw. Their small recreational yard was on the backside of the island and not nearly as impressive. The terrace is shared by the only source of light you will see at night from the island, the lighthouse. If we had more time, I would have liked to have spent more time our here enjoying the view and exploring a little more.

Back inside, the audio guide took us down Michigan Avenue. Cruelly, the halls of this cell block are all named after famous streets in large cities. While it probably wasn't fun for the prisoners, it does make the audio guide a little more fun. Being so engrossed in the story and weaving around all different parts of the prison really helps to take away from the other visitors and make this site feel a lot less like the major tour attraction that it is. Instead, you spend the entire time in your own little world getting quite the interesting history lesson.

From Michigan Avenue, we walked through Times Square and into the Dinning Hall. It was thought to be the most dangerous part of the prison as a large population was in there together at once which increased the chances of riots and escape attempts. So, to combat the risk, tear gas canisters were installed all throughout which could be triggered remotely. It must have worked too because they were set off.

Once finished in the dinning hall, the audio guide is over and it funnels you down some stairs and through the bookstore. From there you can explore the entire area again on your own or stroll around the island. When we were there, a former guard was signing a book he had written about the prison. We were told that once every year, all the former guards and their families talk about what life was like not only working, but living on the rock. I can't imagine calling this place home, but I can imagine coming back to visit in the near future. I know even Landon will enjoy becoming engrossed in all the stories and rich history this tiny island has to offer. Next time, I will be sure to allow more time for a more leisurely visit and I hope to be able to catch a few more of the guided tours. I hear there are some really great ones of the prison. Having not been to Alcatraz (or any other prison) before, I really didn't know what to expect. It was much more interesting and entertaining than I ever would have imagined and I would highly recommend anyone visiting take the time to view Alcatraz not just from a far but from the inside too.


Dad's Visit

I've fallen off the wagon with blogging lately, but it hasn’t been due to lack of things to share. Between studying for the brokerage exam (which is April 13th) and working on a big project at work, I've had very little free time to sit down and write about all the things we've been doing lately. Adam is in the middle of busy season and has been traveling a lot. Even though he is either gone or super busy during the week, we’ve still managed to pack in a lot of fun stuff during our weekends and I’m looking forward to sharing it all. Before any more time passes (and because I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a flight), I want to share and document an extra special weekend.

Last weekend, was extra special and fun as my Dad came for his first visit. He planned his inaugural visit on his birthday weekend and I was really excited to see my Dad, spend his birthday with him, and show him our beloved new hometown. Having lived in Los Angeles for a while, I grew up hearing from my Dad how he would never again live in California and how Kentucky was so much prettier. When I used to say as a teenager that I wanted to move to California, it was always quickly rebutted with a number of reasons why Kentucky was so much better and it always ended with “one day, you will change our mind.” Having been in California now for six months I have explored enough of Northern California to know my Dad was just plain wrong. (Sorry Dad!) While I knew he was one person I could never convince to move here, I did want to show him how wonderful California actually is. Everyone has their own definition of beauty, but I wanted him to see how Northern California was so different from Southern California and I couldn't wait to show him all the great things we have to offer.

The great thing about living in San Francisco is that it has everything, literally. Whatever your interests are, whatever your likes or your tastes, it has it and that is one of the reasons I knew I could change my Dad’s views. There is no way anyone visiting (or living here) can do or see it all so when people visit, I try to take people to places that are similar to their own likes and interests with a few wildcards thrown in that I know will surprise them, yet they will love. When I asked my Dad if there was anything he wanted to do see or, he said he had always wanted to see the Redwoods and would like to go to Alcatraz. So I got to work planning out the perfect weekend for my Dad.

Planning an itinerary is what I love to do and I spent a lot of time pouring over the right combination for this special weekend. I got my passion and skills in trip planning from my Father so I felt the need to be on my A game with him. He's a good trip planner so to impress him with California and all the great things it offers was my goal. Beyond the redwoods and Alcatraz, I knew he would also enjoy a winery. Back in Kentucky, we had a Huber’s wine club membership as a father/daughter thing and I wanted to try and fit in a California style father/daughter wine experience to fill the void. After a little searching, I found a Croatian winery in Napa. BINGO! Croatian and Winery were the only words I needed to see before I knew this was the perfect place to have a father/daughter day and so I booked a wine and cheese tasting for us.

I also knew my Dad would really enjoy the military sites so I researched some of the area forts and military installations nearby. Having explored a lot of the area, I knew that San Francisco was surprisingly rich with military history and the hardest part was figuring out what I wanted to take him to the most out of a sea of choices. I found out the Nike Missile site in the Marin Headlands (one of our favorite places and a must see stop) was actually open one Saturday a month for demonstrations and it just so happened to be that Saturday. It seemed fate had aligned and I knew we had to put it on the list. Not only does my Dad love everything military, but this Nike Missile site is the only one open in the country and so I knew this would be something he has never done before. Which for my Dad, is quite the feat!

Since it was his birthday on Saturday, I also wanted to throw in an extra special birthday dinner and one special thing I knew he would love. I was able to find a highly ranked Greek Restaurant with my Dad’s favorite food, roasted lamb. Someone on yelp had posted a picture of the lamb roasting in the fireplace and I knew he would be in heaven. Unfortunately, I he-hawed around at booking reservations, because it was quite upscale and I was worried about how Landon would do in a fine dining establishment. When I finally decided to bite the bullet, they were already booked for Saturday night. Instead, we got the last reservation on Sunday, thankfully! If you are ever in San Francisco and want to try Kokkair Estiatorio, get reservations a week in advance. 

I also figured this was the perfect time to do something I knew we would all enjoy, a sailboat tour of the bay. My Father loves sailboats and growing up he almost bought one a time or two. If you ever see the bay on a nice day, it is covered in sailboats and so I figured that nothing would be more fun for the whole family than a ride on a sailboat. Since there are hundreds of sailboats in San Francisco, finding one wasn't a problem, just figuring out which one to choose was the tricky part.

Figuring out where to take him was one thing, but the logistics are always another aspect of planning. Depending on the place the, logistics can take a lot more work, time, and precision. I stayed up really late Monday night planning it all out, making sure we could get the timing right to do everything, and booking our tickets. In six months, I've learned that 4 miles can mean 20 minutes. The traffic is never that bad, but the streets are so crazy out there that you cannot figure a normal driving time the way you can in most cities. Google maps might say it is going to take 35 minutes, but even in their hometown, Google just cannot properly adjust for the craziness that is navigating through San Francisco. Since Adam wasn't getting back home until late Friday night, making plans for Friday called for some real planning and sticking to a strict time line. After all, I couldn't leave poor Landon at daycare past closing. While our house is close enough that he could actually walk home, I think they would have frowned upon that.

By the time I was done, I knew we had a great weekend planned and this was the schedule.
·        Friday- Alcatraz, Grgich Winery Tour and Tasting, and dinner at Calzones (our favorite Italian restaurant)
·        Saturday- Muir Woods, a tour of the Nike Missile Site, Sailboat Ride on the bay, dinner at Dad’s choice
·        Sunday- Church, tour of Fort Point, Land’s End and dinner at Kokkair Estiatorio

On top of planning a number of activities, I wanted to get Landon involved and excited so I asked Landon what he wanted to do for Papa’s birthday. He decided he wanted to make Papa some cookies for his birthday. I had bought Landon a 100 piece cookie cutter set for his birthday, because making cookies is one of his favorite things to do. So we started our two part cookie series by baking some cookies Tuesday night. THIS is the best sugar cookie recipe I've ever tried. I think the key ingredient is almond extract which gives it just a tiny bit of distinct flavoring. The best part, it is super easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, and keeps its shape wonderfully during baking. Where was I before pinterest?

On Wednesday night, we set out to decorating them with some icing and sprinkles. Although I took a cookie decorating class a few years ago, I've found the best way to keep a four year old involved is to make the make the icing part as simple as possible. Hence, we use pre-made icing in tubes. Maybe in another year or so we will get fancy. Until then, this icing tastes good and we quickly get to the little one’s favorite part, the sprinkles! Since his set came with the entire alphabet of cutters, we made sure to spell out Papa and Landon tried to make some special cookies in honor of the visit.

We also managed to make some signs for him as Landon also loves to color and write right now. Landon helped me to color and decorate my sign and then he really wanted to make another one. I bought an extra poster board, so he made one all by himself. He even tried to copy my bubble letters as evident by his first “P” in Papa, but quickly gave up as it seemed too complicated for him to duplicate the “A”. Although he tried again and managed to make a few exclamation points. He kept commenting after he wrote his name that he didn't like the black “O” and I think if he had it his way he would have trashed it and started it all over. He’s so picky sometimes and so I had to explain that it really was the thought that counted.

Tuesday night, was the first time I started to hear of the super snow storm that was making its way to Kentucky. The timing was iffy at that point, but it seemed to be coming just in time for Dad’s Thursday morning flight. By this point, I had the entire weekend planned and all our activities booked. Needless to say, I spent the next three days with a real knot in my stomach worried sick that he wouldn't be able to get to us. I’m not normally much of a worrier, but my excitement to see my Dad and having extensively planned our weekend together really put me on edge. I had managed to squeeze out a day off work too and I surely didn't want to waste that for nothing.

Low and behold, Thursday morning he woke up to almost two feet of snow which is not only unheard of for central Kentucky but in March especially.  Being the trooper he is, he got up and plowed his entire driveway (which is super long). By 10 am, he was headed to the airport which become a slow going two hour drive. Thankfully, he was able to drive his F250 which got him there without much incident. Once at SDF, his plane was delayed, but scheduled to fly. When he arrived at his layover in Charlotte, the plane had to sit on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open. They sat for so long that he actually missed his connection!! He was however able to make it on a flight less than two hours later and made it to San Francisco late Thursday night.

Landon and I were there waiting for him with bells on (as Noni would say). Landon was super excited and had told everyone at daycare that his Papa was coming. Once I saw him, I was finally able to relax and ready to enjoy the weekend. Our wonderfully planned birthday weekend could commence.
I had planned to take to a great Chinese restaurant near out house that night, but since he arrived late he was tired and not hungry so we just made our way back to our place. The night was uneventful just spend a little time catching up and chatting. Landon was so excited to show his Papa his room, all his toys and to play with him. He probably would have spent the entire weekend just him and Papa if he has it his way. He made sure of course to point out that Papa even had special cookies in the room for him.

Despite Landon’s idea of a visit with Papa, I had other plans. I’m going to share everything about all the places we visited, Alcatraz, Grgich Winery in Napa, the Nike Missile site, Fort Point the sailboat tour and the great restaurants we went to, but in hopes of not letting the post get too long and trying to format some of these posts in a different way, I’m going to post each place separately. I realize this post is a lot about nothing but the events leading up to my Dad’s visit, but I have to admit I was super proud of my tour guide planning and skills and wanted to share/document a more in depth look at this weekend. I absolutely love taking people around and showing them San Francisco and beyond. My Dad was my favorite “victim” so far as I felt like I had a little something to prove and wanted to make it extra special for him. If I had it my way, I would be a tour guide for everyone that visits and I would spend all my extra time visiting every where in Northern California in hopes of finding gems for everyone. For now, real life responsibilities, time and money keep it at a minimum, but with every free weekend and new exploration, I learn a little more about this great city and find new places to share with others.

We ended up having an amazing weekend with my Dad. Everything I planned worked out perfectly, but even more importantly, I got to spend three entire days with my Dad having fun and making memories. At times, it is devastating how far we live from those we love, but that distance really allows us to cherish every second of the minutes we do have with them. I cannot remember the last time, I spent three entire days with my Dad, no tv, no prior commitments, no distractions.
Saying goodbye was especially hard. Sunday night, I had to leave to fly to Chicago for work and every ounce of my being wanted to stay just to extend the weekend a little bit longer. Monday was Landon’s turn to spend the entire day with Papa and I know that their time together just the two of them was even more important than ours was. Dad flew home early Tuesday morning and, despite my distance from home, it is always hard when someone leaves. Leaving Kentucky last year was easy for us, but every time someone visits then leaves, it feels like a dagger through my heart. California may have it all, but it doesn't have our family and that is a part of it we will never love.

Stay tuned for the details on the weekend’s events soon!