Norah and I have been back to the Bay Area several times for weekend trips and BVZ went once or twice for work, but we haven't all been back together since we moved over two and a half years ago. Time flies. Now that we have to coordinate vacation with school schedules we figured winter break was a good time to go. We left the day after Christmas and throughout the holidays around here I am not sure what Norah was more excited about--Santa or the prospect of seeing her friends and family (let's be honest here, it was all about Ruby). If she had to pick one it most certainly would have been the latter.
Norah is a dream traveler. She's relatively low maintenance as long as she has a snack and some headphones and does not give anyone a bit of trouble. We flew Virgin America this time around (we usually fly JetBlue to SFO, which I love, because of the direct flight and the direct tv at every seat, but the airline flies into the international terminal at SFO which I hate--VA has the same amenities and flies into the domestic terminal. We are total converts), and it was a piece of cake for her.
Louis on the other hand didn't fare quite as well. He was good for about the first hour and then was DONE with being on a plane and instead wanted to go outside. This was taken once we were in the terminal but is representative of about two-thirds of the flight. He didn't cry but was really loud and pretty much refused to sit in his seat. Instead he wanted to kick the seats in front of him, touch the heads of other passengers, grind crackers into the floor...the works.
We didn't get in until about 7:00 pm, which was 9:00 pm our time and well past bed time. All things considered they both did pretty well with the long wait for the rental car and car seat installation by me. We decided to stay at a hotel rather than with friends or family because it was for five nights and that's a long time to host all of us (plus, Louis is really, really, REALLY loud 90% of the time), plus that way we could be more central to everyone and everything we wanted to see. BVZ picked the hotel he stayed at when he came out for work a few months ago. He thought it was fabulous. I should have known based on the very reasonable price that it wasn't quite what I would have picked. Lets just say we have different expectations when it comes to a hotel.
Norah was pretty desperate to see Ruby right away but was also really, really tired so was unable to protest too much. Louie slept with his football every night.
Norah was up at the crack of dawn on Friday and ready to see Ruby, Ruby, Ruby! Norah tends to get a little slouchy in photos because she leans in, but I think she's actually on her tip toes in this one. That's not an optical illusion--Ruby really is that tall. Like a supermodel.
We had been talking Ella up to Lou for a while and he was into her. He was even more into her Sesame Street play set. Ella plays Sesame by holding the characters at the door and saying "Hello!" repeatedly. Lou thought it was pretty much the best thing ever. Ella will forever be associated with Sesame Street in his mind and even now he will pick up his Cookie Monster doll and say "Hello, Ella!" and laugh.
The plan for Friday was to go to the American Girl store in Palo Alto. Now, until recently Norah had not known much about American Girl. But then she saw a catalog, talked to some friends about it, and became much more interested. She got some Christmas money from GG and decided that's how she wanted to spend it. And Ruby was more than willing to be her American Girl partner in crime.
Norah basically has dog-eared the AG catalog for the past couple of months and was fixated on this skating outfit she saw. I know she has the tendency to get hyper focused on things and not deviate from her first choice, so I just made her promise that she would look at everything before making any major decisions. The AG company has been around a long time-it was a big thing even back when I was a kid. I don't think there were any physical stores, but I remember obsessing over a catalog that had the dolls. Back then there were only a handful of dolls and each one represented a different time in history and had a series of books chronicling their adventures. Each girl is strong and independent and the books laud values of friendship, loyalty, and perseverance despite adversity.
The bottom floor of the store has all of the "historical" dolls I remember (plus a few new ones, I am sure), as well as all of their accoutrements--clothing, accessories, and even furniture sets. Upstairs are the new "build your own" dolls, where you can find a doll that looks like you with a wide variety of skin tone, hair color/texture, and facial features. It's a big store and both Norah and I were immediately in major over-stimulation mode. It didn't help that it started to fill up and was quickly wall to wall people. I was kind of hoping she would choose one of the historical dolls but she wanted one that "looked" like her. Once we found the right doll she wanted to find that specific skating outfit and nothing else.
Now, I wanted her to look around and make sure that's really what she wanted because the outfits were insanely expensive and I knew she would only be getting one for a very long time. At that point I could feel like she was getting really anxious because she whispered "I can't look around anymore, I just need that skating outfit" so I called an audible and the decision was made. After all of that of course they didn't actually have the skating outfit she wanted but a very nice saleslady was able to find another skating outfit that just so happened to also have ice skates and furry earmuffs. All for the low, low price of TEN times what I would ever actually consider spending on clothes or accessories for my own actual human children (ultimately I really like the AG concept and product but I do have a major objection to the cost--the majority of people will just be priced out of the market completely. Ruby's mom M filled me in on the places you can get knock off clothes and accessories, but still. It's pretty insane).
Norah is in love with her doll and she is a near constant companion. Later that day I asked Norah what the doll's name was and she said, "Freckles" (the doll does in fact have a cute smattering of freckles on her face). Because I am known for my delicate and sensitive nature, I instinctively said, "Freckles? That's a dog's name" to which Norah immediately burst into tears. Sigh. So the world's most expensive doll is named "Freckles." Win some, lose some.
I paid for everything with my debit card but it was declined at the register, so I just used a credit card. We met up with A and her boys for hot chocolate and I didn't think anything of it until I got a call and then text from my bank saying that there was a fraud alert on my card. A told me it was because no one in their right mind would think it was actually me shopping at an American Girl store. Ha. (Actually it was because I didn't bother to alert the bank we would be out of state).
We let the kids run off their hot chocolate energy around the mall area.
We went to lunch with four kids in tow and met up with BVZ and Lou (who opted to skip the AG store and went to the Rodin sculpture garden at Stanford instead--apparently Lou LOVED the Gates of Hell...).
And then headed back to the AG store so Ruby could take her doll Lucy in for her hair appointment. I was not surprised but rather amused that a person's actual full time job could be doing doll's hair at a doll salon.
Back at Ruby's, the kids were finally able to run around at the park and roll in leaves. Which they did with great joy. Ella and Lou are missing-they were both sleeping it off.
Friday night A and her family had a holiday party they had to attend, so we just made ourselves comfortable at M's. Now, when the girls were just babies, M told me that she and A (Ruby's dad) took turns going out for the take-out on Friday night. Whoever got to escape would go to the restaurant and place the order (instead of calling it in) and then enjoy a beer or glass of wine at the bar ALONE while waiting for the food to be ready. Brilliance. M and I agreed to get the take out and enjoyed two nice glasses of wine in relative peace.
The best part was at the end of the evening we only had to take one of our kids back to the hotel with us. This one got to have a sleep over with her BFF and their dolls (please note that Freckles is wearing $15 eyeglasses).
Someone else got to enjoy being an only child for a while. He was the king of the castle and got to watch cartoons while eating his morning cereal.
Saturday morning we collected the girls and swapped cars with M (hers can fit three car seats) and headed up to Marin and the Bay Area Children's Museum. We hit quite a bit of traffic but the kids were good sports and on their best behavior. See, I am not kidding about how tall Ruby is. And look at that hair. Supermodel.
We met up with our good friends the C family who have twins just a month younger than Lou. We hadn't seen them since the babies were maybe three months old, so it was a happy and long over due reunion. We had been to this museum several times when Norah was younger and I love it because the majority of the exhibits are outside, all are hands-on, and there is a lot of space and resources to run around and burn off some energy.
I told Norah and Ruby they were in charge of Helyn and they took their job VERY seriously.
K made us all a fabulous picnic lunch and after we ate the big girls decided they were done with the baby stuff.
It was fun to get to see Louie make his own friends and hang out with Helyn and James. He was into them and asks about them all of the time.
Ruby and Norah spent an inordinate amount of time building a foam block fort with foam blocks that were most certainly covered in pink eye, and Lou spent a very short amount of time knocking it down and making them crazy.
All five kids. The lighting is terrible but it was the best I could do with several who were on the verge at the end of a very long and productive day of fun.
A was leaving the next day for a trip to NYC so we all met back at her house for dinner and a bottle of wine. As an added bonus, M's sister brought brand new baby Andrew over so we could all meet him. I love, love, love holding sweet newborns that I don't have to feed and can give back the second they get fussy. We were bummed to lose out on time with A and the boys but knew they were off on a fun adventure.
I forced Norah to come back to the hotel that night with us and she told me I was ruining her life. Get used to it kid. That night Louie started running a fever and was up all.night.long (spoiler alert: he was moderately sick the rest of the time we were there and then super sick as soon as we got home).
Sunday morning we headed across the bay for family day. First stop was Uncle Dick and Uncle Alan's house. They have been just about everywhere in the world and as such their house is a virtual treasure trove of cool stuff. The kids banged on gongs, touched priceless crystal vases, and reorganized the tchotchke cabinet. By far their favorite thing was the organ.
And the player piano. They were mesmerized. Until Norah told Lou a ghost was playing it and he cried.
The house is great and the backyard is awesome. It's a little kids dream come true. BVZ has lots of memories of playing back there as a kid. The photos don't do it justice but the lot sits back up on a hill and the whole space is a lush garden with trees, bridges, benches, and a little cottage.
Uncle Alan is the resident squirrel feeder and he enlisted the kids in helping him lure all the rodents in the neighborhood to the big redwood tree. Basically my worst nightmare, but the kids loved it.
This was the best group shot I got.
Next was a quick jaunt to Grandpa Gene's house where we celebrated a belated Christmas with Grandpa and Mary. They know the way to Norah's heart is through books and hooked her up with some great ones. Louis got a bevy of farm animals and a train conductor get-up. He sleeps with his animals every night and we find them in the strangest of places. Last night the big cow was in the pantry. The day before I found the sheep in my laundry basket.
Grandpa Gene lives in a house on a hill with a view of the Bay Area skyline through the front window. It's pretty spectacular. Norah is not at all impressed with that. What she loves instead is running up to BVZ's childhood bedroom. Now, BVZ was a tall kid and even taller teenager, but somehow managed to get the bedroom with the lowest ceiling in the house. For whatever reason Norah thinks this is hilarious and calls it "Dad's itty bitty baby room."
Ever since we saw them in November, Norah and Mary have been talking about going to Fairyland. We had been a few times when we still lived in the area and it is hands down one of Norah's favorite places. It's ahem, a little beat. BVZ remembers going there as a kid and it looking exactly the same. And BVZ turns 40 this year. I think that's a true testament to the joy that is being a kid.
The last time we were there Norah was only three years old. There is a steep slide called the Dragon Slide and there is a sign that says you have to be four in order to go down it. We have talked for over two years now about going back to ride the Dragon Slide. It was the first thing she wanted to do as soon as we got there. I went up to the top with her and she was SO EXCITED until she sat down to slide and promptly freaked the freak out. I normally don't push her into stuff that stresses her out but she's been talking about this slide for TWO years and I knew she'd be so disappointed if she left without doing it. So I hugged her, kissed her, told her she could do it, and finally just to nut up and go down the damn slide.
And so she did. And she was triumphant! She was SO TRIUMPHANT. It was awesome to see her conquer her fear in that way and grab that dragon slide by the balls, er horns. She proceeded to do it again. Like five more times.
Unfortunately as Norah got happier Lou got hotter and more lethargic. I still had a lot of stuff from the plane in the backpack so I was able to take his temperature and he was a toasty 103. We gave him some Motrin and he promptly fell asleep in BVZ's arms. I felt so bad for him.
Norah powered through quickly because Lou was clearly in bad shape and closing time was near.
Sad and sick little boy. With a cool looking cow.
We went back to Grandpa Gene's house and tucked Lou into the couch while the rest of us had a lovely dinner Grandpa Gene and Mary had prepared for us. Norah impressed them both with her reading skills and magic tricks.
We left early than we would have liked because it was clear that Lou needed to go to bed and he proceeded to cry pretty much the entire drive back. I figured we were in for another long night so I dropped Louie and BVZ off at the hotel and drove Norah down to Ruby's. Even though it was well past bedtime they hadn't seen each other ALL DAY, which was apparently unacceptable. I took her over there and they played for about five minutes before turning in for bed. It was great to leave her there because Lou was up and down pretty much all night long. I am kind of surprised we didn't get any noise complaints. Several times I thought we should probably take him in somewhere but then he would fall asleep again and I wouldn't want to wake him. In the morning he was back to his old self again (spoiler alert--this happened for the rest of the trip, he would get super sick at night and then seemed to be okay in the morning).
We drove back to Oakland Monday morning to meet up with the W family at the Oakland Zoo. I don't know why we never made it to that zoo before because it's great for little kids. It's not huge, there are some cool animals, and there's a train. M drove the girls up separately so we had some time to catch up with the W's. Louie was really, really into the elephants. After he saw them, however, he had zero interest in any other animal, he and Wyatt just wanted to go and find the train. Then Wyatt let it slip that there were cars to drive there too and it was game over.
We forced them to enjoy a few more animals but then gave up and headed for the train. Luckily we ran into M and the girls just as they arrived and Norah and Ruby navigated with their maps. Our big group broke up for a bit so the girls could check out some of the animals that the boys wanted nothing to do with.
We re-grouped a bit later at the petting zoo parts. I hate, hate, HATE petting zoos. They smell bad, there's poop everywhere, and who knows how disgusting those animals are. Kids freaking love them.
We had tentative plans to have dinner with the W's, but Louie's fever the night before made me nervous. It was one thing to have him interact with Wyatt outside, but I felt it was another to have him germ-ing up all of Wyatt's toys. See, he doesn't look sick here, does he? Give him six hours and he was a mess again.
Before we left the girls wanted to check out the rides. There was a plane, some cars, a carousel, and a roller coaster. Norah knew she wanted no part of the roller coaster but Louis and Ruby were into it. He was on board until right before we were supposed to get on and then he totally chickened out.
By that time all kids were way over tired and Norah had her one and only (that I can recall) melt down of the trip. I think it had something to do with the fact that it was Ruby's turn to sit in the front of the plane and Norah was convinced that if Ruby was in front she would not be able to see. It made no sense but she was beyond the point of being able to listen to reason.
She was kind of able to rally (she was also starving because I totally failed to bring her food that she could actually eat) and at least enjoy the last few rides.
M was nice enough to bring us a stroller for Lou, which I am not sure he actually ever used. The girls, however, decided they needed to ride in it on the way to the car. Norah isn't sad here she is doing her impression of a baby riding in a stroller.
I knew Norah needed to re-set and get a decent meal in her belly so I forced her to come back to the hotel with us (worst mom ever) and we stopped at the grocery store for stuff to make sandwiches, fruit, and raw veggies. I desperately wanted to go and meet the newborn baby girl of an old friend, but I had visions of infecting her with whatever Lou seemed to be hanging onto so I backed out of driving out to see her. I am still bummed about it (but glad I didn't infect anyone with anything).
We went and had some dinner next to the hotel and then we girls ditched the boys...
And met up with the other girls for a night show of Frozen. Ruby and Norah saw their first theater movie together (Tangled) and lots of other ones since. They had both seen it before but really wanted to watch it together so it worked out perfectly.
Again, terrible night for Lou. High fever, shakes, chills (ie, all the flu symptoms) but again, way better in the morning so I was convinced it could not actually be the flu. (Spoiler alert: it was probably the flu). Tuesday was New Year's Eve and our last day. The one thing that absolutely had to happen for me was a trip to my happy place, ie Half Moon Bay. Taking two kids to a wet, cold, sandy beach is not exactly M's idea of fun but she is such a good friend that she humored me (and was totally nice about it). We headed out and promptly got stuck in traffic. Thanks to phones with internet and BVZ asking a police officer on the side of the road we figured out there was a bad accident on the road that leads to HMB and we could either wait it out or try again in an hour. We ended up eating lunch at a restaurant super close to our old house-and one we frequented often-and then trying again.
We spent many, many, many days at this garden/nursery.
All the kids were great sports with the exception of Lou who refused to eat anything except chips and guacamole and run around the table.
To kill a little more bad traffic time everyone who wasn't a wild animal at lunch got treated to ice cream.
We made it to the tide pools in a mere 20 minutes and it was every bit as cold and windy as I remembered. My happy place.
We saw lots of oyster beds and anemones and tons of hermit crabs. The best discovery is always the elusive starfish and Ruby found our only one of the day.
It was a great afternoon and everything I was hoping for. We had a relatively early flight the next day and despite it being NYE knew it would need to be a relatively early night. Thankfully, on the west coast you can get the east coast television feed and so midnight is really 9:00 pm.
Norah wore her pajamas and Louie wore his new party shirt.
We took our obligatory family NYE selfie.
And headed over to spend our last few hours with Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. Shockingly they weren't sick of us yet-or at least didn't admit to it. We ate, colored, drank wine (okay not all of us did all of those things), watched Ella dance to Katy Perry, and enjoyed a balloon drop at 9:00 pm. Basically the perfect way to ring in the new year.
Things went relatively well on the trip home for a cranky family of four (yes, Lou is wearing the same outfit from the night before-he also slept in it), because both kids fell asleep for a good part of the flight.
That's Lou under the blanket. He slept like that for almost two hours. Bliss.
It was a great trip. Despite my best intentions and planning we didn't see a lot of people I would have like to meet up with and never made it into the city once (save for driving through to Marin--Lou did really like the Golden Gate Bridge). So I guess that means we'll be back soon. Holla.
(I finally did take Lou to the doctor the day after we got back because he was sick as a dog. He had a secondary sinus and ear infection and based on the duration and extent of his fever, as well as all of his other symptoms, the doctor concluded it was likely he had a mild case of H1N1 flu. It was too late for any treatment so he just had to ride it out, but I felt sufficiently bad it took that long for me to take him in. I feel like the 657 times I have paid the $15 co-pay to hear "it's just a virus" more than makes up for it.)