Thursday, July 31, 2014

2014 Summer Family Vacation - CA Version

The origin was the same though the path varied as we made our way out to the land of golden dreams. Disparate arrivals made for reunions sweet but the ultimate effect was the same: a California vacation we would never forget.

Since last summer when we departed the golden coast and returned to Texas, I've dreamed of little else than to return and play on the lapping shores of Southern California and cut through the still waters of Lake Arrowhead. Those activities were the crowning events of friendships forged but told just part of the tale that seemed destined to be repeated this year. I am so grateful the Hanson family received another invite to relive and experience a grand adventure with our best friends.

After a seemingly effortless road trip from Fort Worth, TX out to Chandler, AZ, we were highly tempted to carry on through the evening and arrive late on Saturday night at our final destination, leaving the option of attending church the next morning, albeit through bleary eyes. The driving was smooth with 4 drivers (yes, Savannah was even going 85 through parts of New Mexico) and fatigued us little which spurred on our hopes of completing the trip in a single day. With families piled up in the CA home of John Ward, ready to take off for Hawaii the next morning, staying as planned in Chandler with Rebecca's sweet sister Lisa and newly married husband John was the perfect solution. It's always so wonderful staying with them, talking, enjoying time and getting to know them more. They are gracious hosts and make everyone feel so welcome.

Enjoying a quick bite to eat at Eegee's also seemed like a good idea. 

The Sunday drive was fairly leisure except for one small incident involving the AZ PoePoe. 

We were joined by cousin Madi and the party began Sunday night. It was so good to have her along for the trip. 

By Monday morning my feet were ready to pound the pavement of temperate  Lakewood, CA for a quick run before trudging off to the beach with families in tow. The boogie boarding was delightful, surf was moderately calm and the company excellent as we reveled in the careless hours at Seal Beach.

The week in Lakewood consisted of a plethora of game playing back at the Ward home, including a new gem called Carcassone. I'm still having dreams at night about puzzle placements and farm sharing battles with Lindsay while losing the rest of the game to Austin and Rebecca. 

Playing homegrown games like "Who is the Bravest Man?" is another staple of fun on vacation. 

We also played a new version of BlackJack involving Nutella. Wonder who lost?

While not at the beaches Huntington, Seal or Bolsa Chica, we spent countless hours in the fun pool and hot tub. Once Dan joined us, the competition for daring-est dives, flips and cannonballs amp'd up (never go head to head against a pro). For Lindsay's birthday we spent a good portion of the day "jousting" with float tubes while charging each other on surfboards. Caleb came out on top and was more than a gracious winner though I think Lindsay likely won it all watching as queen for the day while all of us naves entertained her with our antics.

The surf was finally conquered by all Hanson kiddos by all learning how to surf on the training boards. Jaden was a natural, catching nearly any wave in his vicinity. While we enjoyed a beautiful sunset bonfire at Bolsa Chica, Savannah struggled and strained to catch her wave and it finally happened just after the sun retired over the horizon. Another first, Lindsay, the ever consummate Cali girl, caught her first wave that night as well. There may have been a little whooping as these two kindred sisters successfully conquered their foes.

The first week's nights were spent movie watching, dating, dancing, bonfire roasting of hot dogs and s'mores, game playing and hot tubbing; some of those simultaneously enjoyed. One night we even challenged one another while simmering in the hot tub to find satellites over head. Have you ever tried doing that just outside of LA? Ha, kind of difficult.

We shared the week with various families that came through, both delighting the Walden littles and entertaining the Hanson kiddos. For us outsiders, we felt more than welcome as they are a cheery bunch and easy to get along with despite the close living quarters. Dan and I even got in a movie with one of Lindsay's cousins though I must admit to having dosed off a number of times during Godzilla.

We also had a fun time at Shoreline Village at Long Beach where we did some shopping and met a recently moved friend from TX. 

Of course, the visit may have been slightly less comfortable had we not engaged in a battle of idiocracy over hot sauce which someone (Lindsay) may have cheated on the final challenge that sent Madi and me into convulsions. 

After Austin and Madi returned home from the El Dorado Singles Ward (I know, it's difficult to believe my 18 yr-old son can attend a singles ward), we made our way up to the Lake Arrowhead family cabin where we spent another week of fun, sun, wake boarding, relaxation and game playing. Proud Dad Alert: all of my kiddos were able to wake board. What a difference a year makes for the Hansons. Rebecca gave it a go a couple of times as well but per her request we'll leave those pics offline.

I may have broken the rental board just before returning it. 

Another dare for which we still owe a 6-pack of a favorite beverage. 

While my personal wake boarding may not have been all that epic, smallish air, no inverted tricks like tantrums, I had a blast and realized a couple of truths about myself. I'm okay reveling in other's success and cheering them on. I don't have to be the best at everything and can appreciate other's prowess. I am more than appeased by incremental success. I still have a competitive edge that comes out in peculiar ways (back flips off the boat - though nobody wants to see the take off look :) ).

Anyone wanna try to figure out what this dare was about?

What a thrill the two weeks were and sharing them with our best friends made it so much more rich and enjoyable. The crowning event for me was the skydiving adventure on Saturday morning during our exodus back to Texas. Dan, Lindsay, Lisa and Brooke (Lisa's youngest) accompanied Austin and me on a thrilling dive from 13K feet (14.5K above sea level) over the desert floor of Arizona. I was positive I would have knots in my stomach and feel it drop before the tandem jump, especially as we climbed in the sardine can of a plane, but to my surprise I felt elated and thrilled throughout the experience.

 Watching my family and friends jump ahead of me was a thrill as well, knowing I'd likely come in with them cheering me on. Unfortunately, it was more laughter than cheering as the tandem instructor landed on my back with my knee scraping along the turf. But the experience was incredible. There are few words to explain the experience of a 60 second free fall: the rush of air, the extremely high decibel wind rushing past the ears and flattening the face that is in a permanent "w00t!" pose, the spin and tumble of the free fall and feeling of weightlessness is difficult to express. 

Once the canopy is drawn and the straps go tight, a complete silence like none other envelops the senses and a form of peace distills upon the soul. It's majestic. My instructor said it best at that moment of perfect calm and stillness: "Welcome to my office." I knew he had it good and this silly programmer was likely in the wrong field. Experiencing it with loved ones made it 100 times more meaningful and I look forward to the next jump (Savannah will turn 18 next and 2 yrs of waiting will seem like an eternity).

Things I learned while on vacation:
  • You can't have too much fun
  • Sleep is overrated
  • The sun does rise earlier in AZ and CA than in TX based on local time
  • If you're excited enough, the water isn't nearly as cold as it could be
  • Stingrays can still make a girl smile from ear to ear and pee'ing on it won't help
  • Go big until your board breaks, then cry foul to the rental shop
  • Drives with friends can open your eyes and help give you perspective
  • Drive time is what you make of it
  • A permit driver behind the wheel is surprisingly chatty
  • Sandy gummy bears between the toes apparently are sufficiently appetizing
  • Showering, when done right, can make anyone giggle uproariously
  • Texas friends are family
  • Being still during early morning moments pool side can achieve a zen-like peace
  • Running at high altitude sucks but the view and perspective is exhilarating
  • Nothing beats your own pillow and bed - NOTHING
  • National Treasure franchise is a highly overrated series but still a great flick to watch when you're tired
  • Seeing happiness in the eyes of the ones you love makes any sacrifice bearable and worth the effort
  • Smoked tri-tip in the mountains of CA is yummy but nothing beats TX BBQ
  • Laughing has healing properties
  • Dish pan hands are worth it when serving your family and friends
  • There's not much a hot tub can't resolve
  • I am a truly blessed man

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