Thursday, November 26, 2015

An Incredibly Getaway Part II

If you missed it, here's the link to our train ride!

No one napped, so we stepped of the train with pretty content but very tired children.  I was immediately grateful I'd chosen a hotel walking distance from the station.

The Harbor View Inn was a short two block walk from the station.  The neighborhood was clean and welcoming, although there was lots of construction going on around our hotel.  I imagine it will be gorgeous when it's done and in the meantime, I enjoy seeing construction.  The hotel staff was welcoming and our room was mercifully ready early.  We dropped off our things, freshened everyone up and headed out to dinner.  It was already getting a bit dark, so we decided to head across the street to the pier and pick an easy restaurant.  Biggest mistake of the trip!  The view was gorgeous, but the food was really awful.  Apparently that's well known to locals.  Lesson learned.

We headed back to the hotel where we found a bottle of champagne waiting!  We played, the grown ups drank champagne, and watched iPad.  We were pretty nervous about how we were going to get 2 toddlers and 2 grown ups asleep in our hotel room, but as daddy rocked the baby, I told Colin his story.  To discourage him from talking, I counted up and down to 30 a few times and he feel asleep peacefully in my arms.  Daddy settled in on the other side of the bed.  It was 6:45.

The baby woke up at 3:30.  I looked at the clock and let out a groan before realizing I didn't feel at all like I normally do when I wake up at 3:30 in the morning.  And then I realized that was because I'd already been asleep 8 hours.  Huh.  I rocked him, brought him in bed and we all slept a few more hours until Colin woke up at 6 and started literally pocking the baby. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why I became my own gardener.

"I really need to spend more time outside."  I told myself over and over again, every time I listed ways to improve my mood and health.  "I really should exercise more."  You already read the title of the post, so the answer is obvious to you, but it wasn't too me.  Time and time again I'd tell myself these things and I'd even have success, sometimes.

Eventually the answer donned on me.  Well us, actually, as it occurred to my husband as well.  When we reconstructed our backyard, we did with the intent of making it as easily as possible for us to maintain ourselves.  And then we dove in.  We purchased a few basic tools; a push mower, a blower, a rake, trimmers; and we started working.

I believe and I am healthier and happier when I spend time outside, and if I wasn't convinced before the kids, I certainly am now.  The fresh air invigorates and charges them, and a day with time outside is noticeably easier for everyone.  If this is true for them, why wouldn't it be for me?

I never actually intended to have a gardener.  I grew up with a father who did all yard work, maintenance and repairs himself.  Prior to purchasing my home, I bounced around apartments for a while.  I remember a few weeks in to living in our new home, I noticed in passing that the grass was a bit long.  It wasn't until our neighbor told us that she'd had her gardener trim the grass that I realized with embarrassment that this was now MY responsibility.  So her gardener became my gardener as I struggled with the overwhelming realities of owning our first home. 

But now, I savor the chance to escape outside for a few hours to rake, and plant and trim.

This decision isn't without it's downsides.  I am not in the running for the most immaculately maintained yard on the block. And there are days (or weeks or maybe a month here and there) when the grass goes untrimmed and the leaves unraked.  But they serve as a reminder that I need to do get outside and exercise and it causes an immediate and visual consequence of failing to do so.

This isn't a condemnation of having a gardener or even an encouragement to take on your own yard work.  Rather, it's an example of the way that I'm working to make the processes and outcomes I want in life work together with the my daily habits and activities.  For me, it's not enough to say "I will go outside each day." Or even "I will exercise twice a week."  It's better to plan to make all of the things around me conspire together towards my ultimate purposes. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

An Incredible Getaway Part 1

I was feeling a bit disenchanted about a month ago.  As a result of other trips that came up, our family vacation was postponed again this year.  I looked at my calendar and realized I hadn't had a real break from work since the baby was born.  We needed a vacation. The thought of researching and planning a trip and then flying with the kids was incredibly overwhelming....

And then I realized I'd always wanted to take the train!

The thought of spending 5+ hours on a train with two kids sounded way more fun that 5+ hours on a plane.  Plus, the pre-boarding and boarding process is faster on a train (way faster.  Like frighteningly fast.  Like better be close to a door because they aren't waiting for you fast.)

So I pulled up the Amtrak map and choose a destination.  My requirements were only that it be somewhere new and we not have to transfer trains.

Santa Barbra fit the bill.

I giddily called my husband to convince him.  He was significantly less excited than me, but acquiesced (although he did try to talk me down to one night.)  "No!  It takes me an entire day to just unwind, plus the hotel has a discount for three nights!"

So we were booked.  Three business class tickets to Santa Barbara on the Surf liner and three nights at the Harbor View Inn.  The hotel choice was a little more complicated then that.  I hate choosing a hotel without a recommendation. But my requirements were 1. Walking Distance to the Train Station. 2. Ocean view.  The Harbor View fit the bill and had pretty good reviews. It didn't have breakfast or suites, which are my preference when traveling with my kids, but this was an ADVENTURE.  So I booked it.

Two days before we left, I finally realized what I had undertaken. What if they hated it? What if the train gave them (or me!) motion sickness? What if we couldn't get two kids and our luggage on the train fast enough and they left us standing on the platform?  What if...

As always, I had a detailed packing list and I was even pickier than normal (I was only allowing us one suitcase, to maximize the chances that everyone got on the train successfully.

We traveled with:
1 mommy
1 daddy
2 toddlers
1 suitcase
1 single stroller
2 baby carriers
2 baby backpacks
1 backpack
1 purse.

If it sounds like a lot, you've never travelled with children.

We also encouraged the boys to help.

We arrived early and walked around the station, checked out the Amtrak office and talked to the very nice deputies.  Down town San Juan is one of our favorite hang outs, so it was nice to be launching from a familiar place.

Then the train arrived!  The conductor stepped out and said "Griffin Party?"  Ha! So I guess they weren't going to leave us after all!  We had Business class Seats and the Conductor had reserved a family table for us.  We got to our seats and started settling down.  That was worth the ticket price difference alone.

We rumbled off down the track.  The boys stared out the window for a few minutes before getting bored and needing some of the awesome train toys I had packed in their backpacks.  The conductor also gave Colin some tickets which he used to make a track for his new Engine.

We were in for the long haul, so I tried to space out treats and snacks and toys.  As expected, Colin was easy.  He happily played, colored, and chatted.  Alex was a little bit harder.  He climbed over the table, dumped things on the ground and was generally a bit of a nuisance.  18 months is one of my favorite ages for everything so far except traveling.  It's kind of a nightmare for traveling.  After having his glasses yanked off for the zillionth time Gavin looked at me seriously and said "You get him all the way home."

We pulled into Union Station where we picked up a new crew.  And wine!  They also delivered snack packs to our seat which were similar to the ones you can buy on airplanes.  Cookies, crackers, dried fruit, etc.  Then it was nap time... NOT!

Still, everyone settled down and I sat looking lovingly at my family while sipping a glass of wine and staring out the window into the graffiti strewn back alleys of Los Angeles (picturesque this leg was not, but it was fascinating)

As a Civil Engineer who builds grade separations, one of the things I quickly noticed was that north of LA Union Station there were significantly more at grade crossings (it was easy to tell because the train whistle, which I'd been excited waiting for at the onset of our trip was now blowing much more frequently).  Eventually the city gave way to rolling hills and eventually beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.  I'd been worried we were on the wrong side of the train because we were on the east side headed into LA, but apparently the engines push into LA and pull out, so we were on the Ocean side for the short amount of time we traveled along the shore.

I was as anxious about getting off the train as I had been about getting on (okay, maybe a little less after 2 glasses of wine...) so we were at the doors probably a bit earlier than required, babies and luggage in hand.

We stepped off the train and onto the platform in beautiful Santa Barbara!

More about our beautiful vacation coming up next!