Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Mother of All Posts - Yosemite

(tunnel view of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall at twilight)
I feel much better getting this last post off my chest.  It feels good to be honest and open about the icky stuff as well as the good stuff.  Thank you for all of your kind, insightful and encouraging comments.  They truly mean the world to me.  And so now that we've established that it was not all rainbows and unicorns in Yosemite, we can move onto the good stuff, the stuff I want to hold onto.

Leading up to our trip, quite honestly I didn't really know much about Yosemite.  I had heard the names Half Dome and El Capitan before but had no idea of the sheer magnitude of size and beautify I'd encounter.  I also didn't really have much of a concept of what the park was like and how it was situated.  So much so that when we reached the gates of Yosemite Park I thought to myself "Woohoo, we're here", and quickly texted Miranda to tell her we would be there in a few minutes.  Little did I know it was a 35 mile ascent then descent into actual the Yosemite Valley, and it would take us over an hour to get to our camp site.
Our home away from home for 4 days was Housekeeping Camp.  The camp was nestled right next to a slow moving stream/river and was at the foot of both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, which created some pretty picture perfect scenery.  Now I realize that staying here at Housekeeping Camp is not true "camping" for some purists, but when you're traveling with a group of 10 families (20 adults and 20 kids-yowza!), it's nice to have the luxury of warm running water in the bathroom, showers and electrical outlets.  An added bonus were the 3 wall structures that stood atop a concrete slab, with a canvas roof and plastic privacy curtains.  No need to pitch a tent and each structure had twin bunk cots and a double cot so you just spread out your sleeping bags and had an instant bed.  Each "camp" also had it's own fire pit and covered picnic area with table.  Since Yosemite is a National Park, there are very few lodging options available, but you could research the other options here*Important note added: You REALLY need to book Yosemite lodging about a year in advance, so if you want to go this time of year next year, BOOK NOW!
Housekeeping Camp was right outside both Curry Village and Yosemite Village with a bus stop directly across the street from camp.  We rode a lot of buses to get from one place to another and the free transportation system was impressive.  We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a bus and the drivers were always friendly and helpful in figuring out the best route to get you from point A to point B.
  (waiting for our bus!)
Another popular mode of transportation were BIKES.  Next year we're figuring out a way to borrow a bike rack so we can take ours.  And don't fret, no need for a mountain bike here.  The roads are all pretty much flat enough to allow you to easily bike around in just a beach cruiser.  Even if you don't have a bike rack, bring some sort of a bike or scooter to occupy the kids and strap it to the top of the car! 
We did a lot of hanging out at camp, eating, chatting, sitting by the campfire and just playing.  With such a large group it was easy for the kids to find someone to play with, but surprisingly enough, each family seemed to also find a way to get down-time together as well.  A few people have asked and yes, traveling with such a large group can be very overwhelming.  At times I got a bit stressed feeling the need to be on the schedule of the group, but we usually worked it out and had just enough time hanging out together, as well as hanging out alone with just the four of us.  Hard to explain, but overall it seemed to just work itself out.
Someone also asked about BEARS.  We saw no bears, and were told by a camp groundskeeper that they were still hibernating for a couple more weeks, but we still took every precaution and kept all our food locked up in the bear lockers.  The only wildlife we did see were LOTS of squirrels, some deer and many beautiful birds.  The kids were very disappointed we didn't see a bear, but I was relieved that our timing was a bit premature for bear watching ;)

There are so many things to see and do in Yosemite, but keeping our length of stay and young traveling companions in mind, this is what we did:
The most kid friendly hikes we found were Vernal Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls and Mirror Lake
The Yosemite Visitors Center 
The visitors center plays a kid friendly 20 minute video every half hour that was neat to watch, and the actual center had lots of cool things to look at and was interesting for both the kids and us adults.  We did the Visitors Center on our last day in the Valley since we were all feeling a little tired from all the hiking.
Hammock Swing Rides
If you want to occupy kids for hours on end, bring a hammock and let them swing in it
Syd turned four while we were in Yosemite and he thought this was the coolest.
Water Play
Since kids seem to have no sense of temperature and how cold it is, they found lots of opportunity to play in the water, throwing rocks, playing sink or float across bridges, skipping in and out, and climbing huge piles of drift wood and washed up logs.
Camping Sanity Tips From a Rookie:
Our friends Jeff and Cathy are expert campers, and are very familiar with Yosemite Valley.  If it weren't for their expertise, we (okay maybe just me), would have been fumbling around like a bit of a fool.  Art has done a lot of camping, but always on his own as a young kid.  It was helpful to get some guidance from a fellow woman and mom in tune with what it would take to camp as a family, particularly with young kids.  I am very thankful to Cathy and all her organization prowess for keeping us on track and sane!  A few tips that I can pass along are:
  • If you're camping with a group, make a meal plan to divide up the meals.  For example Family A - breakfast (pancakes, eggs & sausage).  Packed Lunch on own (PB & J and King's Hawaiian Rolls with deli meat, small bags of chips and fruit were our lunch everyday).  Family B - Dinner (Vodka pasta, French roll and salad, brownies for dessert).  You have to cook for a larger group, but not having to cook every single meal was a life saver!  And it was fun trying every family's different meals.  We even had a vegan meal on Saturday night. 
  • Electricity was a life saver!  It allowed us to plug in convenience items such as space heaters at night (it got really cold at night), radios and electric griddles for cooking.  I'm not sure I'd like to experience camping with young kids without electricity :)
  • Timing is everything.  Cathy and Jeff nailed the timing of our trip.  Great weather and limited crowds.  Apparently if you go too far into summer, a yucky layer of dust settles all over the camp, getting the kids beyond filthy and the mommas cranky.  A few of the waterfalls also dry up come Summer.  And if you go too early, you run the chance of getting rained out, like our group did two years ago.  And like I said above, you need to book a year in advance!
  • Convenience Items such as electric tea kettle for heating dish water, radios and space heaters made the trip a lot easier and more enjoyable.  
  • Ambiance Lifters sound silly, but things like little radios, outdoor rugs for inside the tent, outdoor twinkly lights, tiki torches and/or candles made camp a lot homier and comforting.  They don't really take up much space but add a lot of impact. 
  • Don't Forget little things like tissues, flashlights, sheets for covering cots, extension cords and surge protectors for plugging in multiple items, and games, coloring books and markers to keep the kids occupied and give them some much needed down time.
It's official, we loved Yosemite so much we're going back next year!  Thanks everyone for an amazing trip!  We made memories that will last a lifetime and gave the kids experiences I hope they'll never forget.

So tell me, if you've been to Yosemite, are there some sights we've gotta see next year, and any tips you can share to make camping even greater?

P.S. Big thanks to Miranda of M.Shanti Photo for sharing some of the pics you see above

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts of the Week - Struggling

It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns in Yosemite, I promise you 
It's been a struggle lately.  Even typing that is a bit of a struggle.  How do I choose my words so that I don't sound like a whiny desperate housewife?  But at some point you just have to toss some worries aside and write what's on your heart.  I've mentioned before that the kids lately have been experiencing many highs and lows.  It ain't getting any easier, the unpredictability of it all.  The unpredictability, the up and downs of parenting, the way parenting can test a marriage, both good and bad.  I watch my daughter skip home from school and I get tears in my eyes marveling at just how lucky I am, how blessed.  An hour later I'm calling my husband telling him she's possessed and I've had to revoke her swim lesson because she is so out of control.

We used to have our good days and our bad days, but now it's like our good hours and bad hours.  It changes so quickly and no matter how prepared I try to be to cut craziness off at the pass, it always seems to veer around my attempt and I have to confront crazy head on.  I'm not calling my kids crazy, just this parenting journey that we all struggle with and try to act like we are all coasting along just fine, and then after a night with really good friends you realize that we are all a bit crazy and we all do some things that make us feel awful and make us feel glorious as well.  But it's nights like those, it's friends like those, that let you know you're not alone.  It's coming home realizing that the tears you shed from both laughter and sadness have caused your mascara to run all over your face and no one bothered to tell you, but that's okay because it was worth it.  That comfort, that peace of mind in knowing you're not alone.  I'm so very grateful for friends like these.

We had an exceptionally tough morning earlier in the week and at one point, please excuse my disrespect, but I wanted to punch my husband in the nose.  I was so angry.  After I cooled off we talked on the phone and I asked, "What are we doing wrong?"  And his reply was simply this, "Nothing.  This is life and we're just living it.  We're not doing anything wrong, we're just having to figure it out as we go along."  And he was so, so right.  He's usually right, I'm just too stubborn to admit it sometimes.  I'm so very grateful for a husband like this.

I always look at difficulties as a problem to be fixed, but these are children and there is no "fixing" them, just guiding them.  Praying that God shows you the right path, praying for God to give you the right answer, praying for God to grant you that patience to use the more gentler words, and the knowledge to know when to use the stern words.  Knowing when to push and when to ease off, knowing when to drive the ship and let it just coast along.  Parenting is a myriad of analogies and symbolism isn't it?
 grumpy, whiny kids on a hike.  
i think i told them to suck it up and stop complaining, and smile.  Not my proudest moment
 Parenting is tough and joyous and amazing and a constant struggle and learning experience.  Some days it's really, really hard for me to find the joy in mothering but most days that joy hits me so hard in the chest that it just about blows me over.  But that's the nice thing about living day by day.  You can take a bad day and throw it out and start fresh the next day, or you can learn from it.  I'm trying to spend more time learning from my mistakes and then throwing the rest of the junk out with the garbage.  There is always a new day, there is always a chance to start over and there is always unending Grace and Forgiveness. 

Thanks for listening.  I think it goes without saying that I've been a little emotionally exhausted this week.  I hope to be back to "normal" soon.  Whatever that means.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yosemite Didn't Eat Me

(celebrating Syd's 4th birthday camping style!)
Hi guys!  We're back and slowly (and I do mean snails pace slowly) settling back in to real life after vacation.  Am I the only one that gets a little blue after returning from a vacation? 

Yosemite was unbelievable and we had a great time.  I now know why so many people rave about the splendor that is Yosemite.The kids were on a four day play date with about 20 other kids, and the adults got to all sit back and let them run a muck.  It was grand. :) We hiked a ton and saw so many beautiful sites that I can't wait to share with you all the next couple of days.  But until then, this momma's got some more unpacking and resettling to do, so back to work I go.

A special thanks to my guest bloggers over the last few days; Alissa, Jami, and Jenn.  Weren't their posts so much fun?  Thanks ladies for holding down the fort while we were gone!

What did I miss when we were gone?  Anything new happening with you guys?  Let me know so I can get caught up please!  Have a great day friends!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Party Planning With Alissa from Rags to Stitches

Hi, my name is Alissa and I blog over at Rags to Stitches. I'm so excited to be posting over here at Four Flights of Fancy. Thanks for having me Andrea!! I love meeting new people so I hope you'll pop by my blog, twitter, facebook and say hello.

I love summertime. Not just because it's sunny and warm, after all I do live in Southern California, but because June is my daughter's birthday month. I'm a party planner by nature. My husband would roll his eyes if he heard me say that, and then add the word "obsessive" in there somewhere. hehe I can't help it. I think it's the crafty side of me that goes crazy coming up with themes and trying to see how much of the party I can hand make. Last year we threw an Elmo party for my daughter and a Johnny Cupcakes party for my son and everything from the cupcakes, cakes, cake pops, tissue paper pom poms and centerpieces were all handmade. 

June is my favorite time to throw a party because we have a fabulous backyard that's perfect for parents to sit and enjoy themselves while the kids run around the yard. I'm not going to lie, this year it took me a little while to come up with a theme. Since Miss K kept going back and forth between princesses and Minney Mouse, I thought it would be fun to come up with something completely different. What's more fun than pinwheels and pennants?! So I began searching for the perfect ideas for her party. Thanks to my new addiction to Pinterest I was able to find some fabulous ideas for her party.

The invites are out, the paper is cut, the pinwheels are ready to be made and I've got just under 4 weeks to throw it all together. Yay, I can't wait!! Don't forget to stop by in a couple weeks and see how it went.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shopping On a Budget With Jami

Hi Four Flights readers, my name is Jami and I blog over at Call Me Blessed.  I love to shop. I mean I REALLY love to shop. Clothes, decor, makeup...you name it, I like to shop for it. Here is the tricky part...
 As a stay at home Mommy of 4 it is my job to stretch the dollars my hubby makes as far as possible.  This both honors the hard work he does to support us and gives me a continual challenge. Having a budget is crucial.  The good news is I've noticed the pieces I get the most compliments on are usually the things that were very affordable, yeah! By the way, when I get the compliment I feel the need to blurt out where I got the item and how much is cost. Am I the only one that does that? Anyone, anyone? 
Today's post is all about shoes and accessories. This is the easiest way to for me to add some fun and color to my wardrobe.

Case in point...

Shoes from Ross. I just love the back of these! 
{please ignore the price tags on the inside I was too lazy to remove}

Boots from Famous Footwear {Steve Madden knock offs}

Shoes from a store in Santa Barbara {can't remember the name}
Some of my favorite accessories
earrings from Picking Blueberries - $5
belt from Marshall's - $16
bracelet from Ann Taylor Loft - $10

One of my many pairs of glasses from here.
$8 {and yes, they are prescription}

You don't have to spend a lot of money to have wonderful things in your wardrobe and sometimes it's these little things that people notice most.
Happy shopping friends!

Friday, May 20, 2011


Happy Birthday sweet boy.  I love you to the end of the Earth and back.
Your smile, your laugh, your cheeks and your silly nature make my day.
And I'm pleased to report that since your last birthday
you've mastered potty training, successfully moved to a big boy bed, 
and you know let me kiss and hug you as many times as I'd like. 
But please stop asking me what my name is every ten minutes.  
You know my first, middle and last name and I'm tired of that game :)
And please stop making me laugh at you when I'm supposed to be disciplining you.
Oh, and please stop trying to bring snails into the house.  
They are gross, even your daddy thinks so.

Thank you.
Love Mom,
The woman that cleans, cooks and plays with you (yes, that is a guilt trip). 

We Love you!
Happy 4th big guy :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ruffled Sunshine - Sea Salted Caramel Recipe & Free Download

Hello!  I'm so glad I could repay the favor to my friend Andrea and help her out with a little guest post this weekend.  My name is Jenn and I have a little space I call Ruffled Sunshine where I share a little bit of, well, everything I guess.  My husband and I own a cruiser bike/sea kayak/organics store in Washington called Greenies and we have a sweetheart of a daughter Ivy who will be four this summer.  {ack! I'm kind of freaking out about that!} Oh and my most favorite thing in the world to do is ride my bike!

 Lately I have been adding a bit of sea salt to all my sweets and have been loving the combination.  So when I saw a salted caramel recipe on pinterest I knew what my Sunday evening treat would be. Luckily I had all of the ingredients in my house which is rare for those Sunday night treat making adventures. Isn't that the worst when you don't have everything you need to try something new?  Fortunately this recipe only has three ingredients which I'm hoping you have in your house. Because if you like the whole salty/sweet thing then you will probably need to make this right away too! The original recipe was in metric measurements so I've already done the googling required for you.  And I've included a printable in case you are like me and need to give away most of what you make to get the temptation out of the house!  This recipe is adapted from Call Me Cupcake which by the way has the prettiest pictures of cakes you have ever seen.

 Here are my kitchen notes in case you are a little intimidated, which you shouldn't be because it is super easy.  {And you get to learn from my mistakes!}

+ It really is important to not to stir while melting the sugar.  I missed that part the first time and you get rock hard bits of sugar that take for-ever to melt.

+The sugar doesn't all have to be melted to remove from heat.  Once you see what is melted turn a rich amber then start swirling.

+When you stir in the butter it kind of curdles but just keep stirring it comes together!

+ I use 1/2 to 1 tsp of sea salt.  

+Be Careful!  Caramel is hot!  I promise!

+This is more of a spreadable caramel or a dip.  Just heat to drizzle.

+When I was googling the conversions the cream one said .63 cups or 3/4 cup.  Those didn't match up but I went with the 3/4 cup of cream.  The caramel ended up a lighter color and a bit runnier, more like a caramel topping.  It has a milder flavor and is just as delicious.   Feel free to try it that way too!

After I got my caramel in to a jar {one batch will fill one 1/2 pint jar or 2 of those itty bitty jars} I thought it would be such a cute thank you gift!  So I made a flag and gussied it up all cute.  As promised I've included the printable so you can make yours cute too!

I hope you like the caramel!  It is super yummy on apples, ice cream, cookies, your finger....use your imagination! And if you want I'd love it if you came by to see me at Ruffled Sunshine some time!  

Thanks so much for having me Andrea!  Have fun on your trip!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Basic Isnt Always Better

Hi friends!  I thought I'd share the guest post I wrote for Jenn at Ruffled Sunshine a couple of weeks back in case you missed it.  I know you've probably already seen most of these pictures, but the content is a little fresh and updated.  I shared some of the things I keep in mind when shopping and choosing my outfit for the day.  Keep in mind that the content was written under the context of someone reading me for the first time :)  I hope you enjoy it if you didn't get to see it over on Jenn's blog.  And this will officially be the last time you hear from me for a few days!  All the groceries have been purchased and now I just have to pack, the most fun part right?  Haha, right!

Basic Isn't Always Better is the whole premise that I try to build my wardrobe on.  When I first became a mom, I stayed home with my daughter for the first year of her life before I went back to work.  I was dealing with an infant and I was on a budget, so I developed this mindset that each new piece of clothing I bought or wore had to be basic so that I could wear it multiple times and with many different outfits.  But what I quickly found was that I just looked the same everyday and my closet didn't bring me any joy.  For me, getting dressed helps me feel good and is something I look forward to everyday.  It's my creative outlet.  So when everything in my closet shifted to solid colors with nothing as a stand out piece, I quickly lost my zest for looking good.  Look good, feel good is my motto :)

Now, to help me stay out of that basic is better rut, when getting dressed in the morning I try to incorporate at least one of these four things into my outfit. 

1. Pops of Color - You can be wearing simple blue jeans and a pair of flip flops, but if you've got a bright pop of color on top, you instantly feel a lift in your spirits.  I swear wearing a bright color makes you smile more.  It's almost impossible to be down when you see your reflection in the mirror.
2. Fun Prints - Whether it's a bold graphic, a feminine floral or a nautical stripe, incorporating some sort of print into your look gives you an instant dose of style.  I usually keep the accessories to a minimum if wearing a bold print, which makes getting dressed even easier.  Let your print be your accessory.
3. Shoes With Style - I love shoes.  Give me a cute pair of shoes and I'm a happy girl.  I love that they can make the simplest of outfits chic, and elevate it to a whole other level.  They don't need to be fancy or dramatic, just a subtle detail can make all the difference.  The right shade of leather or an interesting detail take a pair of shoes from 'meh' to wow!  And I'd rather have 1 pair of good shoes than 3 pairs of cheap shoes, without a doubt.   
4. Well Appointed Accessories - Accessories stress me out so I usually try to keep it pretty simple.  I only have about 6 pairs of earrings, 3-4 necklaces and 2 statement rings I keep on rotation.  And a couple of hats.  Accessories can be tricky when caring for little kids and can get in the way, but a cute necklace or a sweet pair of earrings can make all the difference.  And hats do keep the sun out of your face ;)


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