The purpose of this blog is twofold. First and foremost it is in preparation for an upcoming class that I will be teaching at the Lister Academy - it will allow for me to experiment with the technology that we will be using in the class, plus give a forum for my students and I to stay connected.
Secondly, this blog gives a nice side-effect that our friends and family can see what we're up to during our travels. I hope that all viewers (students, colleagues, friends and family) will enjoy the posts and feel free to leave your own comments.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Wedding

Friday brought much of the immediate family together to prepare the reception site for the big day. After a few hours of work, it was time for the rehearsal and dinner at a rental house overlooking the Luffenholtz Beach. It was an incredible view and an even more incredible evening.

Saturday morning there were a few more preparations at the reception site, and then everyone met at Stone Lagoon for the ceremony. The ceremony was an incredibly unique experience, perfectly tailored to the two couples. It began with four close friends bringing in the four elements. Next, the two grooms paddled across the lagoon onto the beach, followed by a procession of the immediate family walking down the aisle to greet them. The end of the line included our niece, Lea, blowing bubbles, and Corey and Amber's two sons, Cove and Jasper as the ring bearers. Then, the moment we were all waiting for as the two brides were walked in by their father. The exchange of vows was touching - each couple had written their own.

After the ceremony, and lots of family pictures, everyone headed a half hour south to Moonstone Beach for the reception. The reception hall sits right at the edge of the beach and it allowed everyone to go and hang out on the sand (great place for some fun pictures).

There were about 200 people sharing in the great food, music, dancing and celebration of the couples. It was a true tribute to the four newlyweds that such a combination of three families and a wide collection of friends could come together so effortlessly. The DJ that began the evening was replaced by a local band (the DJ impromptu started back up a bit after midnight when the band packed up). There was a puppeteer entertaining many of the children (and plenty of adults), and during one of the band's set breaks, there was a fire show out on the beach.

Admittedly, the clean up the next morning was exactly what you'd expect from such an extravaganza. This was just one more opportunity for the family to come together - which we certainly did.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to Northern California

I would never have thought that I'd have even less time to post on the blog once we got back to Northern California. If we could still find time after a full day of hiking in the national parks, then surely it would be feasible when hanging out with family... I couldn't have been more wrong! The thing about hiking is that we typically aimed to be off the trail before nightfall, so even if we were exhausted we were home in the evenings. Family time knows no such limits. I am writing this post after arriving back in NH on August 24th, but I do want to capture and recap some of what went on so that it gives this blog some closure (for now). This post will summarize the family gatherings other than the wedding itself - that will get its own post.

We left San Francisco on the morning of Wednesday the 18th (after quite a hassle with getting our car out of valet parking - we won't go back to the Best Western, Hotel California again), and drove the 6 hours north through Napa and Sonoma Valleys to get to McKinnleyville where Corey and Amber live. There was a cookout at their house so that arriving family and friends from all three families could start to meet and co-mingle. If I haven't mentioned before, it is 3 families because it is a double wedding - Amber is getting married to my brother Corey (couple on right), and her twin sister Ana is marrying a wonderful guy named Adam (couple on left). I've never met any of Amber and Anna's family, or Adam and any of his family, so this was a night that definitely taxed my ability to learn names.

Thursday morning everyone gathered again to go on a small hike in the redwoods. This is an incredible thing to do at any time, but we were especially privileged to have Adam as a guide - a professional in the area of botany and forestry. It was quite a sight for other visitors to watch him guide 30 of our family members through the trails and into the woods, calling our attention to particularly interesting features. As Adam was stopped at some of the trees, various members of the family (generally led by Corey) would run around back and scamper up for exploration and photo shoots. Where you see Carmela and me standing is not between 2 trees - it is up in a forked trunk of a single tree.

That evening, we all had a pizza party at the rental house that we were renting with my father and stepmother. This was the site for even more family to arrive. Then Corey and Amber arranged for a very generous friend, Kimmy, to watch all of the children (there were about a dozen) so that the adults could go out. Adam and his band were playing at the Clam Beach Inn (check out the video below), and it made for a great location for an extended family reunion. There were some family members there that I hadn't seen for more than 15 years - with a whole generation of children that I had never met. It was great to get together, talk about old times, and catch up on the current going-ons.

There will need to be additional posts for the rehearsal dinner and wedding, as well as the time after the wedding.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

San Francisco

And we’re on the move again… we packed our things and headed out of Yosemite this morning as we make our way back to Northern California for Corey (Bryan’s younger brother) and Amber’s wedding. Since Bryan and I have never been to San Francisco together (I’ve been for conferences and Bryan came through on a visit to his brother when our nephew, Cove, was born) – we thought it would be nice to visit the city together.

So what do you do with only 6 hours in San Francisco?

First stop, after dropping our bags off at Hotel California, was the Wholefoods Market for dessert before dinner. They have a GREAT selection of Carmela-friendly desserts so we prioritized going there first. Then it was onto the World Famous San Francisco Cable Cars. While you can catch these at various stops along their route, we decided to start at the turn station at Powell Street - it was cool to see them be manually turned just like the old days.

We then rode UP and DOWN the steep San Fran streets on the cable car – Bryan even got to ride standing up, hanging on the rails. I couldn’t help but sing “Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat! Ding! Ding!” jingle while we rode (yes I realize I’m dating myself and Bryan’s students will likely not know this jingle, but with the miracle of the internet I’m sure you can find it out there, somewhere). Our driver was fantastic! He had a great personality and really made the experience that much more memorable for us.

The cable car brought us from Market Street down to Fisherman’s Wharf on the water. The wharf is famous for many things, besides shopping (boring!), there’s the Pier 39 Sea Lions, Alcatraz, numerous street performers, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and lots of places to eat, including The Crab House at Pier 39. Since California is known for Dungeness Crab, we opted to have local fare for dinner. It was delicious (yes, that's Bryan wearing a bib) and our seats were perfect – we were overlooking the bay and got to watch the Sea Lions and enjoy the spectacular sun setting behind Golden Gate Bridge. All in all, it was a lovely way to end our vacation for two since on Wednesday we’ll be meeting up with lots of family, from all over the country, for pre-wedding fun.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Yosemite Day 2

We decided to stay on the valley floor today in order to explore what it has to offer. In reading about the park, there's a lot to do here and everyone seems to have a favorite and some conflicting advice. We had intended to take a bus up to Glacier Point and then walk the 8 miles back down to Yosemite Valley (this is Glacier Point to the left), but the morning buses were already booked up. One of the other walks that I had read about was the Valley Floor Loop - which is, in total, a 13 mile trail that circumnavigates the valley floor. While there are lots of tourists at the famous sites on the valley floor, everything I read suggested that the loop itself would be pretty empty - and it was.

Today wasn't "Death Valley hot", but it was in the mid 90's which can be uncomfortable on a long hike. We decided not to do the entire 13 miles, but instead target the sites that we specifically wanted to see. First, we went over to the visitor center to get more information and get our first up-close view of Yosemite Falls (picture to the right). This is the tallest waterfalls in the United States, and the 5th tallest in the world. After swinging back to our lodge to pack more water (we found out at the visitor center that there are only pit toilets - no potable water - anywhere along the trail), we were off. Soon, we were looking up at Sentinel Rock (picture on the left) - during the spring there is a waterfall that comes off the face called Sentinel Falls, and it's the 7th tallest waterfall in the world.

As we hiked along we meandered through meadow and forest, many times along a river. Throughout the vast majority of the day, however, the scenery was dominated by El Capitan (pictured here on the right) - the largest granite monolith in the world. We both recognized it from various pictures, paintings and nature shows. This is a famous destination for rock climbers (no thanks - too high for us). It was a magnificent view that changed from different angles.

At last, we reached our destination - Bridal Veil Falls (left and video below). While most of the tourists there were scampering around on the rocks (they had driven there and walked the 0.4 miles up to the falls, rather than our 6 mile hike to get there), we were satisfied to sit and admire the beauty. After a short 2.5 mile hike back to El Capitan, we decied to catch the shuttle back. Instead of getting off right near our lodge, however, we did get off about a half mile away so that we could get a good picture of Half Dome (right) - another formation that we recognized from pictures (there are lots of those here).

The Loop Trail was nice and quiet, which allowed us to appreciate our surroundings and even see some more wildlife. There were these beautiful blue birds all over the place. I'm not sure what they're called (more extra credit for my students). We even had another deer encounter! While we were walking back from Bridal Veil falls, we stopped suddenly and there was a buck about 20 feet from us, frozen. After a moment assessing us, he slowly walked off into the woods (check out the video). Moments like that are when it really pays off to not just drive to the destination.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Arriving in Yosemite

It was so strange waking up in Death Valley this morning and having it already be 98 degrees at 8:30 in the morning. It was a little sad walking around and seeing birds hopping along on the ground with their beaks open, seemingly panting in the hot morning air. Dry heat or not – it was still ungodly HOT!

As we made our way out of Death Valley we were quite pleased to watch the external thermometer in the car go down as we made our way through scenic, winding canyons and along side the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountain range until we finally reached Yosemite National Park – where we’ll be staying for the next 2 nights in the Yosemite Lodge.

The first thing I should mention is - Yosemite is not only extremely beautiful but it is HUGE! Before going to the Lodge, since we drove in from the East on the Tioga Pass we planned to stop and hike around Tuolumne Meadows. After a lovely picnic lunch in comfortable 75 degree, breezy, sunny weather we headed up Pothole Dome. We had a choice of either going up the Dome via a nice easy, gradual trail – or to scramble up the Dome’s rock face… can you guess which way we decided to go?

The view from the top was postcard picturesque! Everywhere we turned our eyes were flooded with beautiful back drops, dramatic vistas and extreme color contrasts – it is no wonder that artists and photographers (like the famous Ansel Adams) flock to Yosemite! After playing on top of the dome, we made our way down to the meadow. On our way down, as we tried to find the meadow trail, we were startled by a Black Tail fawn that came bounding out from behind a downed tree only a few feet away from us. It leapt away from us with such speed and grace that we didn’t have time to do anything but stare at it racing away. It was SO neat!

After recovering from our deer encounter, we found the trail and decided that instead of heading back toward the car, we would head deeper into the meadow and the woods for a bit longer. I’m so glad we did! Not even 5 minutes into hiking we spotted a herd of Black Tail Deer amongst a cluster of trees in the center of the meadow. There were at least 7 deer that we could see – some grazing, some bounding around chasing each other, some laying stock still in the grass looking very regal. It was very impressive!

After watching them for about 10 minutes, we reluctantly decided to move on (the swarming mosquitoes helped to motivate us to get moving). After walking another 10-15 minutes on the trail, the trail curved into the woods and we spotted a Black Tail Doe and her TWO fawns! We very slowly moved in closer until we were about 50 feet away from them. We got close enough that we could see the spotted fawns playing and nursing. We felt fortunate to be so close to something so beautiful and lively. The deer were aware of our presence, but didn’t seem to mind as long as we stayed still and at a distance. We often use the expression ‘frozen like a deer in headlights’ – but as we stared at each other we could not help but wonder if we looked like ‘humans in headlights’ as we gawked at them.

After returning from our hike, we climbed back into the car (did I mention that it is a Mazda 3 – zoom, zoom?) and made the hour and a half drive into Yosemite Valley to the Lodge. I told you Yosemite was huge. We have a very short amount of time here to explore as much as possible – so for now, we’ll leave it that today was another incredible day and tomorrow will likely hold even more for us.

By the way, have you figured out who wrote today’s blog? Feel free to cast your votes in the comment section: Bryan or Carmela?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Death Valley

I wasn't sure if I should have titled this post "The beautiful colors of the dessert", or "Help me, I'm melting!". The surprising thing for me about Death Valley was how beautiful and colorful it can be. The part that wasn't so surprising was how tremendously hot it is. I know what they say about it being a dry heat - and it is - but so is a blast furnace!

Today was a day of extremes - we started out in Brian Head, Utah which is a ski town at almost 10,000 feet elevation and then we ended up in Death Valley, including Badwater which is 282 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. We decided that neither extreme is really for us. While the mountain top was typically 50 degrees cooler than Death Valley, we found the altitude a bit difficult to adjust to - headaches, plus trouble breathing and sleeping. It was difficult breathing in Death Valley, too, but that was because 118 degrees can take your breath away.

The drive from Utah brought us through the northwestern corner of Arizona (about 20 minutes), and then across Nevada before ending up in California. We planned to stop at the Whole Foods in Vegas in order to get supplies for this next leg of the trip, so we figured we'd spend a bit of extra time and drive down Las Vegas Boulevard for fun. We had been there about 7 years ago, and it was interesting to see how it had changed.

Once we got checked into the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, we headed out to see the sites. It was already around 4, but we'd be leaving first thing in the morning, so there was no time to waste. Badwater, as mentioned before, was our first stop, and then the Devil's Golf Course. Both of these are areas that have massive salt deposits from ancient times when it was a saltwater lake. Next, we drove through Artist Drive and stopped at Artist Pallette - a beautiful area that has multi-colored hills from the variety of minerals. While there we also really noticed these interesting bushes that seemed to shimmer in the light (extra credit for any of my students that can post a comment with the name of these plants)

Our last stop was Zabinskie's Point, which was well timed for sunset. This was an overlook that was perfectly situated to capture the incredible effect of sunset on these "badlands". The way that the shadows give added dimension to the hills was amazing. Thankfully, it cooled down once the sun went down - I'll bet it actually dipped below 100 by the time we went to bed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Last Day In Zion

Bryan and I are tag teaming on the blog today – I’ll start the writing, while he sorts through the pictures and videos, then we’ll switch…

Phew, Carmela quote of the day “If the level of fun on a vacation can be measured by the number of bumps, bruises and sore muscles, I’d say we have been having excessive amounts of FUN!” Getting up and out of the condo today was severely slowed down by our level of impaired muscle movement – in the past week we’ve done canyoneering, hiking up river in the Narrows, then went to Cowboy camp and rode horseback for over three hours (see previous blogs) so sore is a bit of an understatement – but we didn’t let that get in the way of going back to Zion National Park today!

We made the 1 ½ hour drive into the park one last time and started our day with an easy hike (0.5 mile round trip) to Weeping Rock to get our muscles warmed up. Let me tell you, even a short hike in 96 degree sun can be taxing, but the view was well worth it! Weeping Rock, named perfectly, is an indentation on the sandstone cliff face that has water streaming out of it. The cool thing is despite the fact that it is nearly 100 degrees out, it hasn’t rained in over a week and we’re in a dessert – there is Weeping Rock, dripping water that is estimated to be over a 1000 years old (yes really 1000, that’s not a typo!).

After Weeping Rock we made our way over to the Grotto trail head and hiked about a 2 mile loop up into the canyon to check out the Middle and Lower Emerald Pools (picture above to the right). This hike only went up in elevation ~200 feet but man the heat takes a toll on you! After having watched a woman earlier in the day pass out, we stopped for water and small amounts of food frequently. The trail was very sandy, with steep drops as we hiked along the edge of the cliff until we finally reached the first pool (we tried to capture this in the picture here – do you see the tiny white dot? That’s a person on the other side of the cliff on the second half of the loop trail). The views along the trail and at each of the Pools were worth ever sweaty minute!