Sunday, September 30, 2012

California, here we come!

Vivian and I just got back from a long, fun week in Northern California. We brought Hannah along for the ride, who turned out to be a good little traveler on her first big family trip.

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After a brief diversion to Oakland, we flew into sunny San Francisco Tuesday afternoon. We had a bit of an adventure getting out of the city, fighting rush hour traffic, learning what "sharp crest" means on Divisadero Street, and of course passing over the most-photographed bridge in the world.

We spent the evening with Vivian's "granny" in Petaluma, who got to meet a Hannah very happy to get out of the car. Vivian and I had fettuccine alfredo with Donna at one of Vivian's favorite haunts, the New Yorker on Petaluma Boulevard, and Hannah crashed after a long day of travel by car and plane.

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The next day, after a brief stop by Miwok Park and Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, we hit the road to Fortuna and beyond. Of course, we had to drop by a few tourist traps along the way, such as a drive-thru tree in Leggett. Hannah got to sit inside of a hollowed-out redwood, sharing her adorableness with a bus of senior citizens who dropped by to snap her picture.

That evening, we met several members of Vivian's extended family. First was her grandmother, "Nanny Nonie," which meant we had four generations of ladies hanging out with us for a couple days. We had fish and chips together down at the Eel River Brewery with Vivian's Aunt Judy, some of which Hannah got to nibble, which made her very excited.

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We spent the next few nights at the 150-year-old farmhouse of Vivian's Great Uncle Rich in Hydesville. Donna practically grew up there, and Vivian had several visits to the farm during her childhood. She got to do such things as ride on Uncle Rich's donkey, Neeta, who was still around for Hannah to ride on.

Hannah got to meet a couple more relatives while we were in town, such as her great Uncle Sandy, her great Uncle David, her second cousin Shannon, and her other great-great uncle, Ernie. I was quickly enamored with picturesque views of distant hills and the flowers that seemed to grow almost everywhere. (Hannah seemed to like them, too.)

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We drove back down to Petaluma on Saturday, which happened to be Hannah's ten-month birthday. Naturally, we had to snap a decent picture of her for Facebook. We took several around various redwoods we dropped by on our way down south, which took us most of the day. That evening, Vivian had a reunion with her old Youth Group from Petaluma Christian Church. I picked up some pizza from Pinky's, an old-school pizza parlor that Vivian's dad and Uncle Lewie had actually worked at years before. Hannah spent the evening playing with new friends in the church multipurpose room, and I got to watch a few home movies of Vivian as an angel in a Christmas pageant in-between changing diapers.

We went back to PCC the next day to attend church together, and Vivian had the chance to say hello to several of her old friends again (and get some cute pictures in the garden out front).

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On Sunday afternoon, we took Hannah to up Santa Rosa to say hello to her great Uncle Lewie and Aunt Sandra. We had some lunch out on their newly-repaved backyard and spent a couple hours keeping Hannah from crawling aroudn on the ground eating everything she found.

We had one last day in Petaluma on Monday. Vivian took Granny shopping at G&G and got several things she could only get here in Northern California, such as a variety of brie cheeses that were actually might right here in Petaluma. We stopped by Jennie Low's for some Chinese food and then later took Hannah by Luchessi Park (AKA the "duckie park", where Vivian had spent many days playing as a child). For dinner, we met up with my old bible study friend James (who drove all the way from Stockton) and Vivian's friend Ann for dinner. We ate at Mi Pueblo, which was coincidentally the very same restaurant Vivian and I ate at right before leaving Petaluma four years ago. I'd met James over a decade ago at Wayne State College but hadn't seen him in years, so it was good to catch up.

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On Tuesday, we flew back home, but we had a few extra hours of rushed sightseeing before our flight left SFO. We stopped first in Novato to get a glimpse of the Good Shepherd Lutheran School, where Vivian had attended (and Donna had taught) when she was a child. We headed on to the Marin Headlands, where I got my first glimpse of serious bay area fog. I'd hoped to get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay itself, but a thick sheet of white unfortunately kept that from happening.

We wound up having a lot more fun cruising through San Francisco itself. We headed downtown via Lombard Street, famous for being the Crookedest Street in the World for about a block between Hyde and Leavenworth (and hilariously recounted by Bill Cosby). Vivian and I had to dodge about a hundred tourists snapping pictures at the top and bottom of the winding street, and then of course I had to go and join them with Vivian creeping behind. We wound through downtown snapping pictures of various sights as we came upon them, from the Transamerica Pyramid to random trolley cars, to the Bay Bridge. Vivian wanted to visit Chinatown, which she remembered visiting as a child, so we wound up visiting one of the east side and west side of the peninsula (who knew San Francisco had two of them?)

We dropped by See's Candy to pick up some toffee and grabbed some lunch in a small Chinese restaurant around the corner. We had time for one last stop before rushing to the airport, and that was to Lincoln Park to check out the Western Terminus of the Lincoln Highway. For some reason, I've been fascinated with America's first continental highway, particularly since it passes right through Omaha, so I wanted to stop and get a good look at the end of it before flying home.

And in case you were wondering, Hannah was an excellent little traveler. This was her first time on an airplane and she slept through about half the trip. The rest of the time Vivian and I just had to make sure she was fed, watered, and entertained. Hopefully she'll be just as amicable when we hit the skies as a family in future trips (when she'll be more likely to remember them).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Family traditions

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One of the fun, new experiences Vivian and I have had as parents is taking old traditions we've shared and experiencing them again as a family with Hannah. One of these has been Lindy in the Park, the last of which was held last Sunday. The weather was sunny and gorgeous somewhere in the 70s, but the concrete dance floor was sadly lacking in participants (though strangely there were two Matt Johnsons available for dancing). Hannah has gotten to meet a couple new Jitterbug friends while coming with us to Stinson Park on Sunday, and it's always fun to see her interacting with kids her own age. Special thanks go to to Billy for making this event possible again.

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On Saturday, we introduced Hannah to a couple more of our fun traditions, one of which was the Applejack Festival down in Nebraska City. We didn't visit any orchards for apple-picking, since Hannah wasn't quite old enough to participate (and handling a stroller on a bouncy hay rack didn't sound like a lot of fun), but she was able to have pancakes for the first time down at the fire station, courtesy of the Pancake Man. We took a stroll through town and eventually wound up at Arbor Day Farm for some wine-tasting (which Hannah did not participate in). I have to give a friendly shout-out to the good folks there, because after we managed to break a $19 bottle of apple pie brandy while lugging Hannah and her stroller up a set of stairs, they replaced it for free, which was awesome.

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A third and most eventful tradition we introduced Hannah to was the Cowtown Jamborama. Seriously, she earns the Best Baby in the World Award, because after spending a while simply looking adorable for our swing-dancing friends, she went right to sleep just as the dance got started, and she stayed asleep until we were ready to go home. Best baby evar!

Of course, we had a lot of help from several friends/babysitters throughout the night. Vivian even invited her dad to come, who had never actually seen the dance hall where I'd met his daughter some six and a half years ago. Vivian and I danced with each other and with several other friends, old and new, throughout the night courtesy of music from the Shotgun Jazz Band (with lindy hopper extraordinaire Peter Loggins on trombone).

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On Sunday, Hannah got to celebrate her friend Samantha's first birthday. Samantha was born a few months before Hannah and has been a kind of "sneak preview" of things to come for Vivian and me. We dropped by Nate and Lexi's house for a lunch of nachos and then got to watch Samantha gorge on her first chocolate cake (getting it all over and looking a bit like Dom Deluise in the process).

That evening, Hannah got to participate in another important moment of family tradition — the Cowtown Corn-Eating Contest. I had the honor of taking first place back in 2007 and then second in 2008 and 2010, and Vivian had been a regular contender for third. Hannah made us proud, of course, though she was no match for three-year olds "Honey" and Mirabel. She still did quite well, as we knew she would after her practice session earlier in the week.

Vivian and I stuck around to watch the grown-ups participate in the corny fun afterward, marking the first time either of us had witnessed the spectacle from the other side of the table. Billy joined his daughter in the winner's circle, followed by Ben Cass and Andy Meredith for second and third. The most bizarre competitors in the event, however, were the "corn of the dead" girls, who didn't eat much corn, but did gross everyone out by bleeding on a few ears.

So what's next on the agenda? Hannah takes a trip to Northern California to meet her great-grandma and other members of her extended family. More on that later.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Birthday weekend

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If you didn't know, I had another birthday this weekend, passing my 34th annual mile-marker, and I loved every minute of it. The official day came on Wednesday, which Vivian and I celebrated with each other for the most part. She dropped by my office at lunchtime with some of my favorite food: onion rings and guacamole bacon cheeseburgers from Louie M's Burger Lust! We ate at the park and gave Hannah a taste or two of guacamole, which she seemed to like.

Presents were waiting for me at home that evening as Jack and Donna stopped by to care for Hannah as we had a night out. They included a restaurant gift card, a T-shirt from Stella's, and a bunch of books — enough to keep me reading for a good while. Then Vivian took me out for dinner at the 801 Chophouse, where we had ribeye steaks, lobster mashed potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms with Boursin cheese courtesy of everyone's favorite swing-dancing chef, Brian.

And speaking of swing-dancing, I dropped by the Eagle's Lodge on Friday for an obligatory birthday jam and one of Bob's happy birthday cupcakes. We seem to get out to dance so seldom these days, but we might have to remain away from the dance floor until we either find a regular babysitter or Hannah learns how to Lindy Hop, whichever comes first.

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My "official" birthday party came on Saturday, and it started down at Orval Smith Park in Ralston. I "parked" myself at a pavilion for a couple hours and saved it for our friends before they started arriving. We had a fun crowd that was a blend of jitterbug friends, church friends, and other friends all mixed together. Jack and Pastor Drew took turns grilling up burgers and hot dogs for our crew, and Hannah brought another one of her amazing cakes. Hannah got to meet a couple new friends, and Eric brought out a frisbee as the sun went down.

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We retreated back to the house after dark and played a couple fun rounds of the New Yorker game. The object was to come up with witty captions to go along with single-panel comics from the New Yorker magazine, a task that proved to be much more hilarious after a drink or two.

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Of course, this was also Labor Day weekend, and that meant plenty of our friends were also having parties of their own. On Sunday, we made the two or three block trip south to hang out with some of our friends at the Nothnagel House for a "tri-wizard" birthday party. We got to play Cards Against Humanity, which was kind of like a horribly perverted version of Apples of Apples. I also got to hang out in the park next door with a couple of fun kids, test-driving the playground for Hannah once she gets old enough to swing around like a monkey. Hannah had a fun time indoors being adorable for everyone and crawling around after mom.

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On Labor Day itself, after cleaning house and pretending to make good use of our time, we dropped by Frank's house for a campfire party, which was right around the corner from Troy's and just as easy to wander by. Hannah got the chance to be more adorable, and the rest of us got the chance to have black-and-blue burgers and s'mores — at least until it started sprinkling.