What To See and Do With Kids: San Francisco

Moving on to part 2 of this little travel series (If you missed part one’s adventure to Portland, check it out here!).  Today’s location is one that is near and dear to my heart: San Francisco, California. I’ve spent a total of 5 out of the last 10 years living in the San Francisco Bay area–2 years while Jon was in grad school (when our only child had fur and four legs), and then a few years later when we returned for another 3-year stint with our kids.

While we never lived in San Francisco proper, we did spend enough time in The City to discover some special kid-friendly spots (which is really saying something considering I don’t think any actual children live in San Francisco any more). Read on for a few of our favorites!

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

San Francisco, California
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Where To Stay:
Since we were day-trippers into the city I  don’t have much solid advice for you on this subject. I will note a few tips, however, if you’re trying to find lodging in San Francisco:

  • Parking in The City is scarce and very expensive, so try to stay near a public transportation line such as Muni (the city’s bus and metro system), the cable car lines or, if you plan on exploring areas outside of the city, the BART (commuter train).
  • Try to find lodging in the city center.
  • San Francisco real estate is *ahem* quite pricey which drives up the hotel rates–consider renting through a vacation rental company such as Airbnb or VRBO.

What To Do:
Before I get into this I need to say one very important thing about visiting San Francisco: it’s cold. You may think that it’s warm because it’s in that land of eternal sunshine called California, but San Francisco is a land unto itself. A cold land. Do yourself (and your kids…and your sanity…) a favor and pack along some warm layers and a rain coat. You’re welcome.

Moving along to more exciting matters now…

My very-favorite kid spot in San Francisco, and one that I made a point of visiting frequently when we lived in the area, is Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). BADM is located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the seaside town of Sausalito–which means the first part of your adventure to BADM involves a trip across one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world.

Take some extra time to explore the bridge before or after you visit the museum–you can either pull over on the San Francisco side right before you get to the bridge (there’s a fun little gift shop and visitor center here), or cross over the bridge and drive up to the Marin Headlands for a birds-eye view of The Golden Gate.

Once you get to BADM park in the large fields out front and enjoy your day exploring the indoor exhibits (they’re all set up inside former army barracks) or take a trek outside to hike on the nature trails and play on the giant pirate ship play structure.

Once you get back into San Francisco, spend some time exploring Golden Gate Park. This giant park in the middle of the city is full of trails to explore, ponds to paddle on, and museums that pique every interest.

My favorite kid-friendly museum in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. The museum itself is breathtaking with a grass-covered roof and an indoor 4-story rainforest where you can climb through every layer of the rainforest. The museum also has natural history exhibits (DINOSAURS!!) and an aquarium. There are plenty of hands-on activities to keep little hands and minds occupied.

Another must-do when you’re in San Francisco is a trolley ride. I like to hop on the Powell-Hyde trolley at the Powell stop downtown. Get off the trolley at the top of Lombard Street where you get a great view of the “twistiest street in the world” (It’s not actually THE twistiest street in the world, but it’s definitely in the running for that honor and a visit there makes for some great photo-ops and entertaining tourist-watching).

After you’ve gotten your fill of watching cars try to navigate the zig-zags on Lombard Street, hop back on your trolley and continue down to the other end of the line at Hyde. You’ll get off near Ghiradelli Square, so take a brief detour to get some chocolate or ice cream sundaes at the Ghiradelli Chocolate cafe (Or, if you need an afternoon pick-me-up, an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista next door).

While you’re in the area, visit Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions on the docks or take a boat ride through The Bay. And speaking of boats, this is also where you can catch a boat out to one of the most infamous (former) prisons in the world: Alcatraz. If you plan on visiting Alcatraz, definitely try to buy your tickets in advance–this is a popular destination and tickets sell out quickly during tourist season (Which, as far as I can tell, lasts from approximately January 1 – December 31 each year.).

If your kids enjoy animals (What kids don’t like animals?!) head over to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is a good sized with all of the expected animals (the giraffes even have a view of the ocean from their enclosure). There’s also an indoor rain forest exhibit, a train you can ride through the park, and an epic playground where your kids can let out their inner monkey. After you’ve seen all of the animals, head down the road for a little play time at Ocean Beach so your baby can eat sand and you can dip your toes in the Pacific.

What To Eat:
San Francisco is a melting pot of people and cultures, so I would recommend treating your dining experience as a trip around the world. You can visit Chinatown for dim sum (Do yourself a favor and head straight for the oldest–and best–restaurant in Chinatown: Sam Wo); Little Italy for pasta or 40-clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose; the Mission District for authentic Mexican food at La Taqueria; or Ethiopian food at Tadu in SOMA.

The Farmer’s Markets are also amazing and most of them operate year-round–check the current offerings by day or neighborhood here. While you’re at the market, grab some goodies that you can pack along for a picnic by the beach–maybe you can nibble your organic veggies and vegan cheese while you watch your children frolic in the waves.

Pure. Bliss.

I know that this just scratches the surface, so now it’s your turn! What are your favorite things to see and do with kids in San Francisco?

 

Washington: Week 1

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Friends, it’s official: we are Washingtonians! One week ago we left California, and now here we are: already fully saturated by the love–and the rain–that make Washington home.

Our first week back in Washington has been a bit of a whirlwind as we attempt to get our feet on the ground, and hit the ground running at the same time.  I feel a bit like those unfortunate guys in the YouTube videos that are running on a treadmill at the gym, lose their balance, and go shooting off the end of the machine. I’m running, running, running, but I’m not so sure how to find balance yet. We’re definitely still in transition and I think it will be awhile before things calm down and we can really feel like we’ve settled here.

It’s been a busy few days with a lot of emotions, but overall we are just so happy to be here, to be starting this next chapter of life for our family. Here’s a run down of what we’ve been up to since our move from California:

Saturday:
I flew up to Washington with the kids and my saint-of-a-mother-in-law, Debi, who spent all of moving week in California helping me manage children and moving companies and school drop offs and last minute necessities.

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While we were flying up, Jon drove his car–somehow he managed to drive 860 miles in only 13 hours, which is approximately half the time that it usually takes our family to drive the same distance in our minivan. My dad and father in law met my crew at the airport to help transport all the people and all the stuff (and thank goodness they did, because that is no easy feat).

We are currently living in temporary housing while we wait to close on our house in Woodinville and move in there. Our temp housing is in Redmond near Marymoor Park, and Jon’s office is close enough that he can walk to work on a trail that runs behind our house. The house is gorgeous and hasn’t yet been utterly destroyed by our children, so it feels like we’re on vacation. The house also has 36 stairs from the ground floor to the top floor, so I feel like I won’t even have to go to the gym as long as we live here. Win win.

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On Saturday we were also reunited with our dog, Bota. We are so grateful to have our Bota girl back after several weeks apart (my dad drove Bota up to Washington a few weeks ago so she wouldn’t have to be traumatized by yet another plane trip):

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We’d love to host a play date for any of our local friends who want to come visit, so just let me know when you want to come over!

Sunday:
We were tired from our day of travel the day before so we had a slow start to our morning. Once we were up and at ’em we decided to drive by OUR NEW HOUSE! This was the first time we got to see our house in person so it was really fun to, you know, prove that it actually exists. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go inside (the seller is in the process of moving out), and as soon as we saw it David started crying because he missed our old house in California…so a lot of big feelings there. I was really excited to see it, though, and I can’t wait to make this house our home.

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In the afternoon my parents came over to visit, and then they took Jon to the airport. Yes, just 20 hours after arriving in Washington he flew back to California for his first 2 days of on-board orientation with his new company. See, California? I told you we wouldn’t stay away for too long!

Monday:
While Jon was in California I kept busy with the kids here in Washington. My sister came over to visit and we spent most of the day hanging out at home catching up and playing about 5,000 rounds of hide-and-seek (baby Hannah sucks at hiding, btw).

In the afternoon we had a special outing to David’s new school (he will start classes on Monday):

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We got to meet his teacher and see his new kindergarten classroom:

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And spent a long time playing on the school playground:

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Jacob was also excited to see the school as this will be HIS new school come September!

Tuesday:
We went to MOPS! Last Wednesday was my final day of leading my MOPS group in California, and less than a week later I was already plugged in to a new local group–I guess I just couldn’t stay away! I love the community of moms at MOPS, and I immediately felt right at home. It was wonderful to meet some new mom-friends and continue being a part of something that is so close to my heart.

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In the afternoon we checked out a local park and much merriment was made by all:

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Wednesday:
Jon got back from California and immediately high-tailed it to get in for his first day of work at the local office. He humored me when I told him that I needed a “first day of work” photo to commemorate the occasion:

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After we got Daddy off to work we drove up to Edmonds for a friend playdate. It happened to be my friend Michelle’s birthday, so it was the perfect excuse to get a few of the old gang (and our plethora of offspring) together for a visit.

In the afternoon we explored the trails near our house and went on a critter hunt. The boys had fun collecting all sorts of PNW creatures like snails and worms and the most Washington-y of all creatures: slugs.

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Thursday:
Thursday started with a thrilling adventure to the grocery store. Turns out when you move into a temporary house for a month you still need to eat and generally live…and fast food for every meal only cuts it for so long. This was a major grocery store trip that required me restocking an entire pantry and fridge, so I did my research. Mostly. I found a grocery store that had in-store childcare (SCORE!), and my plan was to ditch the boys so I could muscle through the tedious shopping trip without their “help”.

As it turns out, I arrived a full hour before the childcare center opened, and Hannah was already getting cranky for her nap. I decided to cut my losses and just keep the boys with me. Thankfully there was a pile of Easter candy at the front of the store marked 90% off that I shamelessly used as a bribe to keep the boys from running up the aisles like wild banshees and generally causing absolute mayhem.  We got our stuff (mostly) and got the heck out of there as quickly as is possible when you have two boys running up the aisles like wild banshees and generally causing absolute mayhem.

In the afternoon we had a very special play date at a park near our new Woodinville house. Earlier in the week I had posted in a local Facebook group that David would be starting at his new school next week–a mom who has a daughter in David’s new class saw my post and she set up a playdate for David with several of his new classmates and their moms.

We had a lot of fun meeting new friends and probably would have stayed longer if a crazy thunder-and-lightning storm hadn’t cut the playdate short!

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Since Daddy had walked to work in the sunshine that morning…and now the weather had turned to chaos…we decided to rescue him with the car. Turns out this was a very good idea. Jon’s new office has free food (umm, HELLO!) and it just so happened that Daddy-pick-up-time coincides with feed-my-tummy dinner time. We had a delicious dinner where the boys literally licked their plates clean and declared it the best meal of their lives. And, since I didn’t have to prep or cook or clean a single darn thing, I had to agree.

While we were at Jon’s office we also picked up the final installment of care packages that his company sends to the kids of new hires (the boys had already received 2 other care packages before we moved, so they knew what they were in for as soon as they saw their “thumbs up boxes”):
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The excitement was palpable as they opened their special presents…and even Hannah was overjoyed to play in an empty box with packing materials (babies are so easy to please!):

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Friday:
This was our last “free day” before real life and routines kick in full-force next week. One of my goals this week was to give the boys lots of happy experiences to help make this transition positive for them. Moving is rough on kids, and I really wanted to help make some happy new memories together right away.

And that, my friends, is how we ended up at the most amazing indoor swimming pool!

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We had a blast spending the morning splashing and sliding and swimming in the lazy river. It was so good that 2/3 of the kids fell asleep on the car ride back home, thus giving me an opportunity to write this blog post 🙂

It’s been a very full first week in Washington, and we look forward to many more wonderful weeks (and months and years) to come!

Virtual House Hunters

Earlier this week I dropped a bomb on you when I let you know that we are moving back to Washington this weekend. I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger as to where exactly we will be moving back to so, as promised, here is Part 2 of The Great Peterson Moving Saga.

One of the biggest draws for us moving back to Washington (Besides our family and the liquid sunshine, obviously.) was the fact that we can actually afford to buy a home there. Living in the Bay Area and dealing with ever-increasing rent prices and the instability of having to move every time your landlord is murdered (True story, this actually happened to us) made us realize that renting was not for us. We needed to buy a home and make it our own. So began the quest for home ownership.

Now, this was not just any ordinary housing search. This was a housing search that had to be conducted from a different state, with a very tight time frame, and with a budget (a budget that we started off thinking was excellent, and ended up realizing was completely insufficient. But more on that later).

When we bought our first house in Washington 11 years ago, the housing market was…ahem…a bit different. Then: two 23 year-old BABIES, buying a house with stars in their eyes and a zero-down loan in the bank. Now: a family of 5 with a dog, buying a house in one of the fastest-growing real estate markets in the country.

We went into this housing search thinking that it would be like it was back in 2006 when we went out to look at a few houses, made an offer on the one we liked, and bought it after we’d thought it through and made some decisions and felt ready. So, we booked ourselves a quick weekend trip up to Seattle to do a whirlwind housing tour, sure that by the end of the weekend we’d pick out the house of our dreams (which, with our budget, we were sure would be any darn house we wanted), and move on merrily with our lives.

Our good friend, Rob, is a real estate agent (the best there is) and he spent the whole weekend with us driving around looking at houses and neighborhoods (Meanwhile, the grandmas and grandpas came and played with our kids at our hotel). When all was said and done, I think we visited about 30 different houses over the course of 2 .5 days. It was a LOT.

But it was all good, because the very first house that we saw on the very first day was THE ONE. It was the size, location, and style that we were looking for. It was within our budget. It was a beautiful neighborhood. It. Was. Perfect. So, we made an offer–a really strong offer that was over the asking price with no contingencies and a pre-inspection completed. We were 110% sure that this would be our house. We flew back to California with our offer on the table, and we knew that we’d get the good news that the house was ours by the end of the week.

Well, the end of the week came, and so did our news about the house. Only, it wasn’t the news we’d expected. There were several other offers made on the same house (OUR HOUSE), and we weren’t even in the top 3. If we wanted to increase our offer by another 10%, they told us, then we’d at least be competing in the top 3 offers (so very generous of them to allow us the opportunity to compete even further). Since we’d already offered all that we had, however, we couldn’t offer more (remember, there’s this thing called a budget and this other thing called a loan…and they kind of have to line up if you actually want to buy a house.)

We were devastated. Both of us felt so, so sure that this was going to be our house and our happy little ending to our story. After all, everything else had already lined up perfectly, so why didn’t this? As I discovered, this was just another opportunity to trust God and follow him–after all, we had prayed that he would close doors where we weren’t supposed to be, and this was just another closed door in a series of closed doors.

In the end, this first home-offer experience was a reality check for us. The housing market had changed, and we were the unlucky participants. So began phase 2 of the house hunting process: online house hunting.

We wouldn’t have another chance to fly up to Washington for in-person house hunting before we actually had to move there, and Jon’s company would only pay for 30 days of temporary housing once we arrived, so our options were becoming more limited. Even if we found a house that we wanted to buy on the day that we moved to Washington, we wouldn’t have time to close before our temporary housing allowance ran out. And if your temporary housing time runs out, that means you have to move. AGAIN. And since we really, really, REALLY wanted to cut out the number of times we’d have to move during this transition, we decided to suck it up and try something that we were initially very uncomfortable with: trying to buy a house that we wouldn’t get to see in person.

Over the course of the next few weeks we sent our friend-agent Rob and Jon’s parents out to look at several more houses with us remotely via FaceTime in the craziest housing market I’ve ever encountered (possibly even crazier than the Bay Area, which is saying something). The housing market in Seattle works like this: Houses are listed on Thursday, they do open houses Friday-Sunday, they accept offers Monday-Wednesday, they review offers on Wednesday afternoon, and you know by the end of the day Wednesday whether you’re an offer winner or an offer loser. When you make an offer, you need to offer at least 10-20% over asking or you won’t even be in the running. An all-cash offer is much preferred. Then, to make your offer stand out you need to remove every contingency, include a personalized cover letter with a cute photo of your family, and then offer more money. Because, really, the few sellers that there are just want more money.

So, we followed all of the crazy Seattle-area homebuying rules and we made offers on 5 houses. None of them were accepted.

I was getting to that point that I get to when I think our family is going to be homeless (or have to move a gazillion times before my children finish kindergarten). I started researching Craigslist ads for rentals in the area and I had them send over some applications. Time was running out, and if we weren’t going to be able to buy something then we’d better figure out a Plan B.

While I was sorting out our rental options, we had one final offer on the table. It was a great house, but we were so discouraged at this point that we really didn’t expect anything to happen with it. And just then, when I thought nothing would ever happen, IT DID. The Wednesday review date came up and THEY ACTUALLY LIKED OUR OFFER!!! We got the house! Our closing date is scheduled for May 11, so before we know it this will be home. I honestly could not believe that after all of the searching and rejections and stress of being so far away we were actually going to get our happy ending after all.

So now, friends, do you want to see it?! Do you want to see the house that I hope to call home for a very long time (or, as Jon says, “Long enough to let the ink dry in their address books.”)? Of course you do!

I now present to you, OUR NEW HOME!!! (note the “Pending” tag on this photo. Best tag EVER!)

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Here’s a quick run-down of the stats (To the best of my knowledge. Remember, I still have not actually seen this house yet):

Location: Downtown Woodinville (For those of you not familiar with the area, Woodinville is about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle and is best known for it’s  charming small-town feel, wineries and farm-to-table restaurants). This will be about a 15-20 minute commute for Jon (or he can ride his bike less than 10 miles on a trail to work).

Size: 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms (approximately the same size as 3 Bay Area homes combined)

Yard: AMAZING! Half an acre that backs up to a former golf course…it basically goes on forever. There’s a garden (that I will surely kill by the end of this summer), a fire pit, a dog run, and oodles of space for little boys and their dog to explore together.

Schools: Top-rated and close by. David is going to finish out his Kindergarten year at his new school starting the first week of May, and Jacob will begin Kindergarten there in the fall (!).

Parking: Plenty for our guests who will come visit 😉

There are so many reasons why this house will be perfect for our family. It has space for each of our kids to have their own rooms. There is space for Jon to have an office so he can finish work at home if he needs to and not have to stay late at the office. The neighborhood is quiet yet close to all of the shops and activities that I need to shuttle between during the day. We will be close enough to our former church that we can reconnect with our friends who are still there. We will be mere minutes from all of our family in the area. My favorite winery is just down the street.

I could go on and on, but the point is that we are just so stinkin’ excited about this! Being able to buy this house is the answer to a thousand prayers, and we can’t wait to see how God uses us in this new community where we are being planted. Please come visit us soon, friends, and in the meantime here are a few more photos of our home (wow, it feels good to say that!):

 

What To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area

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In a few weeks we have a good friend from Ireland who will be coming to California for the first time. Ok, ok…she’s more than a friend. She’s my all-time favorite babysitter, and I’m kind of hoping she’ll fall in love with America and move here forever. And by “here” I mean the spare mattress in our guest room. And since I want her to love America, I thought I’d give her some ideas of top-notch destinations to see once she arrives.

I logged in to my blog to pull up a post on what she should do when she visits the Bay Area only to realize that I have never written that post! How have I lived here for 3 years and never given you all ideas of what to do when you come? Better late than never, so here are a few of my favorite things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area:

San Francisco:
If you are coming to the Bay Area, it’s likely because you want to visit the foggy city. Even though it’s only an hour away from our house, I don’t venture up to San Francisco that often. I have kids with small bladders and it’s a bit of a to-do…and it’s cold in The City (California has made me soft–so soft that minor temperature changes have become deterrents. I’m sorry.).

There are hop-on-hop-off tour buses in the city that will take you to many of the top landmarks, or you can buy a MUNI (bus) pass to get around quite easily. If you have your own car, you may want to just park it somewhere that doesn’t cost more than your mortgage and walk or take public transportation within The City because parking here is no bueno. San Francisco is only 7 miles x 7 miles, so it’s totally do-able to see most things by foot anyway.

Now, on to my favorite spots to visit in the city.

Golden Gate Bridge (duh)
I always start my venture over the bridge at the view point and visitor center on the San Francisco side of the bridge. If you’re driving your own car you can park for $1 per hour while you hop out to look around and shop for Golden Gate souvenirs. I always walk out on the bridge so I can look up at the copper spans and down into the deep blue water.

After stopping by the view point I like to drive over the bridge and up to the Marin Headlands. You park up by the old Army barracks and take a short walk out to the best view of the bridge anywhere–you’re slightly above the bridge looking down at it, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

If you’re feeling more adventurous you can rent a bike on the city side and ride over the bridge on 2 wheels (there are several spots to rent bikes, but we got ours at the Sports Basement when we did this ride pre-kids). You can ride over the bridge and right back to where you started, or you can ride all the way to Tiburon and catch the ferry back to the city.

Fisherman’s Wharf
This is a fun area to explore. There are lots of (overpriced) shops and restaurants, and even a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Go check out the sea lions on the pier, eat some bread bowl clam chowder, or even charter a boat out around the San Francisco Bay (highly recommended). We like to walk up to the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee and then over to Ghiradelli for free chocolate samples and ice cream.

Fisherman’s Wharf is also where you catch the boat out to the most infamous prison in America: Alcatraz. If you want to visit Alcatraz, plan ahead–the only way out there is by boat, and spots fill up quickly. Your best bet is to buy tickets ahead of time and reserve your spot online as soon as you know the day that you want to go out to the island.

Trolley Rides
Speaking of Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s a great spot to watch the trolleys turn around in front of the Buena Vista and, if you want to, go for a ride! Taking a trolley ride is a lot of fun and about as iconic as you can get! I like riding the route between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square (shopping, hotels, restaurants, and more shopping). This route passes close to Lombard Street if you want to hop off and check out the twisty-turnies.

Golden Gate Park
Go for a walk on the gorgeous trails, rent a boat at the Stow Lake Boathouse, or check out some of the museums–the California Academy of Sciences (where you can walk through a 3-story rainforest biodome and view a myriad of sealife in the aquarium) is my fave.

Chinatown and Little Italy
There is so much to explore in these little neighborhoods of San Francisco. Eat your way through the streets, poke your head into the little shops, and enjoy the world-class people watching.

Catch a Giant’s Game
San Francisco loves their hometown heroes, the San Francisco Giants (Baseball, people. They’re a baseball team.). Head over to AT&T park for a game or, if you’re like me, just nosh on some garlic fries while enjoying the gorgeous views over San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Zoo
I loooooooove zoos! Every time we travel I have to see the local zoo, and I love visiting the local zoos where we live. The San Francisco Zoo is a good-sized place with all of your favorite animals: giraffes, monkeys, penguins, polar bears, lions, and a tropical rain forest building. There’s also a cute little train ride that goes around part of the zoo and decent food in the cafes. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have an open day!

Bay Area Discovery Museum
This is more for those of you who are traveling with little companions aged 1-7 years old. Just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, I love this children’s museum for its interactive exhibits, indoor/outdoor play spaces, and pirate ship playground overlooking San Francisco Bay. Insider pro tip: the first Wednesday every month has FREE admission!


Day Trips From San Francisco:
Outside of The City there is still plenty to do! Here are a few of my top picks:

Wine Country
Take a tour bus out to Napa or Sonoma for a day of wine tasting and soaking in the beautiful scenery. Or, if you still want to go wine tasting without the crowds, head south toward the Santa Cruz Mountains (where we live!) and sample dozens of local wineries in a single afternoon.

Beaches
From San Francisco your best bet is to head over to Half Moon Bay so you can dip your toes in the Pacific. Continue south to Santa Cruz if you want a day of amusement park fun at The Boardwalk: rides, fair food, and a giant wooden roller coaster await.

The Redwoods
Ummmm…some of the biggest, oldest living things ON EARTH. Need I say more? It’s worth a trip. Some forests to check out if you’re near San Francisco: Muir Woods (12 miles outside of the city), Big Basin, Portola Redwoods State Park, or Butano State Park.

Silicon Valley
Now, I’m partial to Silicon Valley because this is where we’ve been living for the last few years. It really is a unique spot to visit, especially if you’re into technology and tech companies. All of the big tech companies are based here, and many have visitor centers you can check out: Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix to name a few.

Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
These are some of my all-time favorite coastal towns. They’re just so quaint and beautiful and slow-paced that they make you feel a million miles away from any care in the world. If you make it to Monterey, be sure to check out the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, go sea kayaking with the marine life, or go out on a whale-watching tour. If you’re in Carmel, drop everything you’re doing (which is probably not much of anything if you’re in Carmel), and eat brunch at Mission Ranch. Just trust me on this one, and send me your thank you card later.

Now that you know what to do, all you have to do is come enjoy your own San Francisco treat!

The Storm

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The Short Story (Because brevity is bliss):

We had a storm last week and it was craaaaaazy.

The Long Story (Because I want to remember the whole story so I can tell it to my kids some day when all they remember about this ordeal is that they got to stay up late and eat ice cream in the dark after we’d already brushed teeth. And because I suck at brevity.):

Last Tuesday, January 10, actually started off quite fantastically. We have a tradition in our neighborhood that whenever a child from our community has a birthday, we gather at their house in the morning for a celebratory breakfast before starting the day. We had one such birthday on Tuesday, and I’m not one to complain when I’m served sizzling meats and birthday cake before 8:00 AM. After dropping the boys off at school, I took Hannah to her first baby-and-me music class. Also wonderful.

There was no problem at all until I got home from the music class and realized that the “atmospheric river” the meteorologists had been warning us about was reaching it’s max capacity. We were in the midst of one of the biggest winter storms I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something.

Now, I grew up in Seattle. I know rain. I’ve seen every manner of rain and lived to tell the tale. This rain, however, was different. This was dark, brooding skies, incessant sheets of rain, and strong gusts of wind. Making matters worse, we live in a narrow mountain canyon, literally on the edge of a creek (and by “on the edge” I mean close enough that the boys pee off our back deck into the water, and by “creek” I mean that the storm had turned it into an insanely full, about to spill over, raging river.).

By the time I picked up the boys from school in the afternoon, I could tell there would be problems. Tree branches littered the streets and a few large rocks had rolled down the canyon walls outside our house. Things were getting wet and wild, and I cancelled our afternoon plans in favor of hunkering down inside our safe, warm house.

That night Jon had to work late, so I put the boys to bed and went upstairs to begin a night of bingeing on all of the shows Jon refuses to watch with me on the basis of “risks to his masculinity” (Call The Midwife and The Crown were on the agenda). I was about to cut into a pan of brownies when there was a loud crashing sound, followed by darkness. Utter and complete darkness.

It’s hard to describe the kind of dark that it gets in our house when the power goes out suddenly in the middle of the night during a storm. Since we live in a canyon, there’s already no external light–no distant streetlights, no ambient light from the city, not even moonlight reaches the canyon floor. In those first moments, it was so dark that I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Thankfully, I was prepared for a power-outage (we’d already had one for a few hours 2 days before when the storm was just getting started), so I fumbled my way over to the kitchen counter where I had stashed a few flashlights.

I turned on my light and went to check on the kids, but the loud crash had woken the boys up and they were already on their way upstairs. Since the boys were awake and now WIRED, I decided to let them stay up and play for awhile so I could try to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to leave. After all, we live in a narrow mountain canyon with a quickly rising creek in the middle and steep muddy walls on either side–not exactly the ideal place to be during a raging storm with a power outage.

I set about packing overnight bags for us and called Jon at work to let him know what was happening (read: I called Jon to freak out and completely lose my mind.). I was about to go wake up the baby for our great escape when I got word from a neighbor that no escape would be possible. That loud crash I’d heard? Yeah, that was a mudslide and the only road out of the canyon was now blocked by a ginormous downed tree, splintered power poles, and live electrical wires. There would be no leaving…for awhile.

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The mudslide damage on our street in the canyon

For the next few hours I attempted to look calm and excited about our little “adventure” in the storm while I continued to fret internally at the possiblity of our house either (A) Being wiped out by another mudslide (B) Having the roof crushed by another ginormous tree making its way down the hill or (C) Being washed away by the raging river outside our back door.

The boys loved that I let them stay up after bedtime to eat all of our ice cream…after all, I didn’t want it to melt during the power outage and go to waste. When people ask the boys how the storm was or what we did all week, they always answer the same thing: Ice cream. The only thing they remember about this whole crazy week was that we ate ice cream in the dark.

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Eating ice cream in the dark

I finally gave up on the idea of trying to get out of the canyon that night and realized that we were just going to have to lay low in our own dark house. I made myself a bed on the floor of the boys’ room and laid down with them until they finally fell asleep around 11:30.

Shortly after, at about midnight, Jon made it home and I got my first report from “the outside”. There was another mudslide on Highway 17, the only road we can take to get to our mountain, and he’d been stuck in traffic for hours before he finally snuck past the barricade during the workers’ break. Once he got to the canyon, he couldn’t drive down our road because of the downed trees. He parked about a mile up the road and walked in…in the total darkness, with no light, and stepping over the (hopefully no-longer live) wires that were strewn across the road.

We got our first glimpse of the damage once there was daylight the next morning (Wednesday). Several men from our community were already out in the street with chainsaws working to clear the downed trees off the road. The power company, PG&E, arrived on scene a bit after 8:00 and began to assess the damage. In total, 7 power poles (including the one directly in front of our house) had been knocked down and needed to be replaced. This would not be a quick fix.

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Power pole down in front of our house.

Since Jon’s car was already parked on the other side of the mudslide, he was able to walk back out of the canyon and go to work on Wednesday morning. I, however, was still trapped at our house. David’s school was cancelled anyway, so we just hung out inside the house reading books and sitting by the fireplace.

Wednesday afternoon we got word that the trees had been cleared off the road, and anybody who would like to have access to the world outside the canyon should move their cars out of canyon now before they closed the road again to begin electrical work. Since there were still mudslides on Highway 17 that were intermittently closing down the road, I decided to just park my car outside of the community but stay put.

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Walking back home from our car–we had to park about 20 minutes (at kid pace) away from our house.

Even though being stuck in a house without power isn’t ideal, it still beats being stuck on a Highway with a car full of kids for hours on end with no way to get off the highway (this has happened to us before, and it is a scene from a horror movie that I do not chose to ever repeat.). Turns out this was a good call–most people I know who left the canyon took 3-5 HOURS to drive the 3 mile stretch on Highway 17 between the last exit in town and our exit. No thank you, very much.

We spent the rest of the day Wednesday staying out of the way of the PG&E crews that had taken over the street, visiting our neighbors (some of whom ended up in the emergency room with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes coming off their generator), cooking meals on our BBQ, NOT using water (because our community water pump doesn’t work without power = no filtration, and no way to purge sewage…ewwwww….), napping (Hannah) and going completely bonkers from being stuck inside all day (Boys. And me. Mostly me.). With the mudslide commute, Jon got home around midnight again. The rest of us were already asleep huddled around the fire in my bedroom.

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Our home within our home…sleeping bags around the fireplace.

Thursday was pretty much the same as Wednesday. Still no power, still no way to get off the mountain.

By Friday we still didn’t have power, and I was starting to lose it. We’d all been living, playing, eating, and sleeping in one room, because that one room was the only room with a fireplace…and heat is a good thing when it’s 35 degrees outside. Since we were all sleeping in one room, that meant I was doing very little “sleeping” and much “tending to children who woke up in the middle of the night” so that they wouldn’t wake up the rest of the room. Plus, I was still nervous about the whole tree-falling-on-our-house-or-washing-away-in-a-river possibility. After 3 straight nights of no sleep, I was SPENT. Like, really, really over this whole storm adventure thing.

By Friday morning they seemed to have the mudslide situation on Highway 17 under control, so I made quick to get the heck off of our mountain. I was beyond excited to finally re-enter civilization! My cell phone had been perpetually out of battery for the last 3 days (which is a bit disconcerting when it’s your only link to civilization and emergency help should you need it), and the only way I could charge it was to go plug it in to my car for a few minutes at a time. On the agenda: finding a place where I could charge my phone and get something warm to drink.

As soon as I dropped the boys off at school, I drove over to the closest Starbucks ready to get my charge-and-drink on. When I walked in, however, my dreams of recharging disappeared. Every single chair, booth, and table was already full. I even asked a few different people if I could sit at their tables, and I got denied each time. Under normal circumstances I would have just brushed this off and moved on with my day. But this?  This was not a normal circumstance.

I’d been scared and stuck in a cold, dark house for almost 4 days with 3 young children. I needed a warm place to sit and charge my dang cell phone. Nobody would make room for me. I’d just been through one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and nobody cared. Nobody here even seemed to notice. It was, shall we say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I burst into tears and stormed out of Starbucks (baristas, by the way, love it when their customers grab their drink, randomly burst into tears, and then storm out of the store.).

Then I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I called my mom. I was done being the “strong” grown up, and I just needed to cry with my mommy. I have no regrets. She totally talked me off the ledge and made me feel like someone really did care (because, really, people do care). She (and my dad, who had been called in for reinforcement) offered their love and support, then convinced me to go home and take a nap. It was sound advice, and I took it.

I tried to take the nap, but my brain wouldn’t turn off–I was trying to figure out how to get the heck out of here. I couldn’t stand one more night in the cold, dark house with everyone huddled around the one, small fireplace. I sent out a plea of desperation on Facebook, looking for someone who might have room for us at their house for the weekend. After a few minutes I had so many responses from friends offering to help us that I had to take down the post so we wouldn’t break the internet (Thank you, friends, you really are the best!). See, I told myself, people really do care.

In the end, we decided to make a break for a warmer locale. My sister lives in southern California, and we figured this would be the perfect excuse to visit them for the long holiday weekend. I don’t know if my sister had been tipped off to my pleasant little phone call with my parents earlier in the day, but she and her family bent over backward to accommodate us. Her family moved out of their house for the weekend and stayed with her in-laws so we could have her whole house–and, most importantly, all of their beds–to ourselves.

We had a great weekend playing with my niece and nephew, swimming, eating out, hiking, and feeling very loved. When we went to church with them on Sunday morning, though, God got the last laugh: the sermon was on why God allows natural disasters to happen. Seriously. I took copious notes, and I left church that morning realizing that God’s grace can override anything and everything–even a storm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

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Hiking with my sister and her family in sunny southern California–no storm here!

By the time we got back home after our weekend away, the streets were cleared and the power had been restored. All’s well that ends, well…I guess.

So, that is the story of the storm.

I know that I’ll remember this adventure for years to come, but if you only remember one thing about my story, remember this: ice cream is not worth sacrificing. If your power goes out, just start eating all the ice cream. At least then your kids will have a story worth telling.

A Story of Friendship

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The original small group couples (plus the first couple of babies) in 2009

This story began eight years ago.

In 2008 Jon and I embarked on our first Grand Adventure as 20-something newlyweds. We decided to pack up our house, our cars, my classroom, and our dog and move 1,000 miles away so Jon could attend a top-ranked grad school. It was a huge decision that would impact every area of our lives (and our pocketbooks), so we were nervous.

There were a lot of “what if’s”: What if school didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t find a job to support us during those years? What would it be like living in a place so different and so far away from the only place we’d ever lived? What if we missed our family too much? What if we didn’t meet any friends?

Through all of the what if’s, however, we had confidence because we knew that this was where God wanted us to be. So, we moved forward in faith, trusting that it would all work out.

Shortly after arriving at our new home in Palo Alto, California we got connected to a great local church that some of our friends were attending. We decided to join a small group Bible study that met once a week in a couple’s home. After all, we still didn’t know many people, and maybe this would be a good chance to meet some new friends.

Little did we know then, but that one decision to join a small group would impact our lives forever.

On the first night of our small group I tried on about 15 different outfits. I wanted to look cool without looking like I’d tried too hard so I could make a good first impression. I was incredibly nervous–as I always am when meeting new people for the first time (I try to play it off in public, but I am 100% an introvert and social gatherings often set me in a panic)–but I was also excited to hopefully meet some people our age.

When we walked in the front door of the Barley’s tiny top-floor apartment on that first night we were greeted with hugs and huge smiles, and I knew we were in the right place.  These people were genuine, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more.

Over the next two years the couples in that group would become like family to us. We found commonality in our faith, our careers, our joys, and support when all of our husbands worked too hard. We went through a lot together in those two years, and the years that have followed. Three of us became pregnant with our first child at the same time. More than one of us miscarried. One of us adopted. One of us nearly died. And, eventually, most of us moved away.

Over the years we kept in touch and followed one another’s adventures. When our family embarked on our next Grand Adventure to Ireland, our small group friends journeyed along with us in prayer (and in faithful reading of my blog!). And when our third Grand Adventure moved us back to California, some of them were still there to greet us and welcome us “home”.

Our lives are so very different now than they were when we first met eight years ago, but this is the kind of friendship that spans time and distance and life change. In the two years since we’ve been back in California I have met up every couple of months with the ladies from that original small group (I refer to these gals as my “comfy friends” because I can wear my comfy sweats and messy hair around them, and they’ll do the same for me). It has been such a source of contentment and  joy to have my comfy friends back in my life again!

A few weeks ago we managed to hold a reunion with the 4 families from that original small group that are still living in the Bay Area. It was absolutely incredible to see the husbands and wives and children and careers and homes that we had prayed for all those years ago–here, in the flesh.

And, while it was amazing to have all of us together under one roof again, it was short lived. Because next week? Next week we send another family off on another Grand Adventure. But that’s not the end of this story.

You see, this family of dear friends is not just moving anywhere. They’re moving to Ireland, the same far-away country that we recently moved from. Actually, they’re moving to Cork–the same city where we lived two years ago. More specifically, their house is in Rochestown–the same neighborohood where we once lived. In fact, they will be living just a few doors down from our former home, and walking the same streets where we once walked.

The irony of us moving back to California to such wonderful friends, only to have them move halfway around the world to the same neighborhood that we recently moved away from, is fascinating. I am so excited for them and the adventure that is unfolding for their family. Excited for what awaits them, but also excited because our story will continue through them.

I love it when God surprises me like that. He wrote this whole story before time began, and when the pieces come together He must smile knowingly because He planned it that way from the very beginning. It’s not luck or coincidence that I have these friends in my life or that our paths have crossed over time and space. It’s providence. It’s God’s provision for our present and His protection for our future. I can trust God’s providence because He already wrote the ending of our story. And it’s GOOD.

So, as new plot twists and characters enter this story, I will be ready. Ready to embrace the journey and the story as it continues to be written in our lives. Ready to trust and follow the Author. And, most of all, I will be ready to be amazed.

Because amazing is what He does best.

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Our small group reunion, July 2016

A Photo Tour Through Our California “Mountain” Home

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Ah, home sweet home. This week marks one month since we moved into the house we now affectionately refer to as River House (even though the “river” that supposedly runs behind our house is currently only a dry creek bed. I’m sure the massive El Niño they’re predicting for this winter will take care of that in no time, though).

It was a bit of a gamble moving out here–we’re getting a steal of a deal on the rent (by Bay Area standards, not by normal human standards), but the house is in the “mountains” (Californian for tree-covered hills). Even though it is physically quite close to civilization, there is an absolute feeling of remoteness. Though only two miles separate River House from town and the rest of Silicon Valley, the two places sometimes feel like they are worlds apart: Mountain people drive trucks instead of Ferraris; in the mountains you hear crickets and cougars (yes, large wild cats share our property) instead of The 101 or 85; in the mountains your gardener is Jesus, not Jesús from Ramirez Brothers Landscaping. And even though we’ve only been here for a month, I kind of love it.

I know you’ve all been curious to see what life is like out here in the boonies, so here’s a peek inside our little mountain life.

We are probably the only house in the mountains (or anywhere, for that matter) that has a large cement goose wearing a dress and an Irish welcome plaque at the front door. You really can’t miss us.
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Once inside the threshold you enter the Great Room. Turning left you’ll see our living room and school corner. My favorite part of this room is the massive vaulted cedar ceilings and the river rock fireplace (we’ll talk more about the necessity of that fireplace in a moment).IMG_6503

To the right of the living room is the area we’ve set up as the dining room and, beyond that, the kitchen.
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I love our kitchen at this house! It’s spacious and bright and, as of last week, fully functional. See our brand new fridge? This was a gift from our landlords two weeks after we moved in…after our old fridge died. We went 4 days with no working fridge which made storing food and eating fresh food a bit of a challenge. The ordeal gave me a greater appreciation for my pioneer ancestors. With the help of our generous neighbors offering us space in their fridge and a chest freezer in our garage, however, we persevered and survived the Great Fridge-pocalypse of 2015.
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The kitchen is so spacious that I actually have empty drawers and cabinets–and that’s saying something considering we own such obscure kitchen gadgets as an apple-peeler-corer-slicer and a Turkish coffee station.IMG_6519

Remember how we’re living in the mountains, and it’s full of wonderful surprises? Well, no tour of our kitchen would be complete without the inclusion of our little kitchen friends, the ants. And the gnats, but they’re too small and too fast to snap a photo of.IMG_6518

Off the kitchen is one of our five decks. This one is currently housing our BBQ…and a drying rack with our swim gear.IMG_6512

Speaking of the decks, we spend quite a bit of time out on them. This is Bota’s deck (she allowed a guest for the photo op):IMG_6514

And the boys’ play deck:IMG_6130

Back inside the house, we’ll finish the tour of the top floor of the house. Just off of the Great Room/Kitchen set up is the master bedroom (or, if you ask the boys, The Boys’ Second Bedroom):

IMG_6471Notice the utter lack of grown-up bedroom furniture. We had sold half of our bedroom furniture before we moved to Ireland, and then we sold the rest of it this summer so we wouldn’t have to move it. This was before we realized that we actually need bedroom furniture for absurd purposes like HAVING FURNITURE TO USE. Our mattress is currently sitting on the floor, I’m using a Rubbermaid container as a night stand, and I literally found Jon’s nightstand in a dumpster. It’s actually pretty cool, because we feel like we’re in college again. Not to worry, though, because our real Grown Up furniture has been ordered and is en route as we speak (!).

From the bed you can see our two private decks and gas fireplace–once you look past the Rubbermaid nightstands, it’s quite the retreat. IMG_6469

The white door you can see to the left of the fireplace is our closet. It’s a massive closet with ample storage for our clothing (and our full suitcases and boxes full of clothing, because it turns out bedroom furniture like dressers are actually useful for things like holding your clothes).IMG_6473Continuing on through the master suite you come to the master bath. The soaking tub is so inviting to my achy pregnant body but, unfortunately, I can’t use it. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but California is in a DROUGHT, which means there are water restrictions in place. And by water restrictions, I mean our mountain home is basically siphoning water from the city through a straw and if we go over our allotted amount, the water police will come knock down our front door. And they’ll fine us thousands of dollars, but whatever. Alas, the soaking tub will have to wait.
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Finishing up the tour of the master suite is our…office corner? I don’t even know what to call it. We have a dresser, filing cabinets, boxes of crap we don’t want to unpack, a bookshelf, school stuff, and a random office chair (with no desk) crammed in there.At least there’s a pretty little deck to go stand on if you want to get out of the mess!
IMG_6472This is also where we house our modem (for the world’s slowest internet) and our landline telephone (because we don’t get cell phone reception at the house). See, it really is like we’re in college again.

That wraps up the top floor of the house! Now, down to the first floor.

The boys’ bedroom is the first room you come to at the bottom of the stairs. We have their bunkbed set up so they can practice their climbing and diving skills from more precarious heights.
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Opposite the bunk bed is the boys’ dresser and reading corner. Pay special attention to the most important addition we’ve made to the bedroom: our eye in the sky camera.IMG_6496

Since the boys are now residing on a different level of the house from the parents, we considered it prudent to install surveillance apparatus. The camera allows us to capture all of the bedtime moments when the boys are anywhere but in their beds.IMG_6425

Next door to the boys’ room is the nursery/storage room/guest room/play room (don’t ever let me be your interior designer). This is the nursery side of the room (Yes, we are 4 months early, but it was just easier to set everything up than store it):IMG_6475

The closet in this room is stacked floor to ceiling with baby paraphernalia: IMG_6477

The opposite side of the room is currently acting as the boys’ play room (because this room has a door that locks, thus containing the mess and the temptations).

(Not pictured: the center of the room, the “guest room”, where we will set up our blow-up air mattress for anyone who wants to brave a visit).
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Also downstairs is the boys’ bathroom. It’s cute, but it smells like pee, so I try not to go in there.IMG_6474

We also have a lovely laundry room downstairs with a utility sink (an absolute necessity with children, I’ve decided).IMG_6479

One whole wall of the laundry room is lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets. The cabinets are chock-full of electronics equipment (What, that’s not what you store in your laundry room?)IMG_6480

Outside of the laundry room is a linen closet and our game closet. We rarely play games, so I find it absurd that we own this many. Anyone want to come over for a game night soon?
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If you go down the hallway past the laundry room you come to our garage. It’s pretty well organized with storage along the walls, infinity toys on one side, and a narrow sliver of empty space down the other side where Jon can maneuver his car inside to park (it’s a very shallow garage, so it’s quite amusing to watch this transaction take place).IMG_6494

Outside the garage we have our yard. Yup, that’s it. Our property line extends 6 feet on either side of the house and is backed by the (dry) creek and a canyon wall, so this is the entirety of our outside space.IMG_6488

You may have noticed a wooden fence in front of the house (see the photo at the top of this post if you need a refresher), and you may have thought that was a nice little fenced-in yard. You would be wrong. What that is, my friends, is the propane tank enclosure. Because we live off the grid in the mountains, our main heat source for the house is propane gas (what?!?!). Since moving here, I have had to endure propane safety lessons with the gas company and join a propane users support group. True story. Thankfully it’s still FREAKING 100 DEGREES EVERY DAY HERE, so we haven’t had to try out the whole propane gas heat thing yet.IMG_6482

Now, I mentioned earlier that the fireplaces were important, and now you know why. With propane being our main source for heat, and propane being VERY EXPENSIVE, we are told that we will be relying on those fireplaces more and more as the seasons change. As such, we are stockpiling wood scraps and collecting them in aesthetically-pleasing boxes around the outside of our house. You’re welcome, neighbors.IMG_6483

Now, with all drawbacks (bugs, propane, water restrictions, slow internet, no cell service, no yard) aside, River House really does suit us well. Every time we walk out our door we are greeted with nature’s playground:IMG_6493

We have woods and canyons and creeks to explore. It feels very much like the Northwest, and very much like home.IMG_6441

And, though you can’t see the houses or the people very well in this photo, we have incredible neighbors. Neighbors who invite us over for dinner and let us borrow their fridge when our fridge dies and who invite us over for bonfires and s’mores and whose kids have Power Wheels drag races with our kids in the street. The neighborhood is teeming with children the same ages as our boys and we’ve all made fast friends. It’s a wonderful tight-knit community, and we feel lucky to live here.IMG_6486

I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour through our mountain home, and let us know when you’re ready for a visit! I’ll even blow up the air mattress for you.