Southern California – Part One

The five of us (Lucy included, of course) pulled into our driveway Monday evening absolutely exhausted from our Better-Late-Than-Never-Spring-Break. I’m not sure why we thought driving 5+ hours immediately following a red-eye flight was a good idea when booking our trip but we survived. The kids had a great time with Clay’s parents in Wilmington, North Carolina while Clay and I made the most of our time in southern California, but we’re happy to be home. For now.


We took an early morning direct flight to LAX out of RDU last Wednesday. The flight was unremarkable in a good way I suppose, although flying coach nowadays is about as much fun as getting a root canal. But we arrived safe and sound and ready to begin our child-free California getaway.


 Seal Beach, California

While it wasn’t our first time visiting California, it was our first time flying into LAX. Our reason for going to California was that my cousin, Matt, was getting married that weekend in Newport Beach, so we decided since we were spending $$$ on tickets, we might as well bookend the wedding festivities by a couple of days. Sadly, weather was not on our side for the majority of our trip – we did not get to experience stereotypical sunny SoCal. But since California is currently experiencing a major drought, we didn’t let the drizzly overcast weather get us down! After picking up our rental car and escaping the not-so-nice-area of Los Angeles, we made our way south to Newport Beach, stopping at Seal Beach for a smoothie along the way.

Perhaps it is because we just spent time on the North Carolina coast, but we were surprised at the amount of industry located right on the Pacific Ocean…something that is almost non-existent on the Atlantic Ocean. It seemed like oil derricks were absolutely everywhere with minimal effort to shield them out of sight. Additionally, off-shore oil platforms peppered the horizon outside of Los Angeles. But as we drove further south, the beach became more serene and the horizon less industrious.


All of the wedding guests stayed at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. Because we were among the first to arrive, we were able to check in early. After unpacking, we walked down to Balboa Island and Newport Beach to explore and grab a bite to eat.




 We spotted this sea lion sleeping on a private dock…our only sighting of one the entire trip.



 Passenger ferry to Newport Beach Peninsula.


We ate fish tacos and enjoyed beer at Great Mex…


…and then walked to the beach. By then the sun had disappeared and we felt grossly underdressed for the cool and windy air. We decided to scrap our plans to swim in the ocean and catch a movie instead (While We’re Young, in case you’re wondering). Jet lag caught up to us and we were in bed by 9:00pm…exciting, I know.


We woke up the next morning at 6:00am well-rested and ready to squeeze in as much as we could before the rest of my family arrived. The previous day, Clay had spotted an artisanal waffle shop on our walk and knowing my fondness for the delectable treats, suggested we check it out for breakfast. I am sad to report that the waffles did not live up to their hype. They were good, not great. But the illy coffee? Oh my goodness, by far the best coffee we had the entire trip.


 We spent the morning hiking at Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach.


 Our favorite trail was Car Wreck Trail.


It had all of our favorite elements for a hike – remote, challenging, steep, and a little quirky.


The highlight of Car Wreck Trail is a (supposedly) wrecked 1949 Dodge that no one knows how it got to the bottom of the canyon. The views from the trail weren’t too bad either – there is a reason why it is called Top of the World (or at least Laguna Beach).


 The hike back was the most challenging – extremely steep but a great workout.


After our hike, we grabbed some coffee and walked down to Laguna Beach, were we spent the rest of the morning talking about our future together and long-term goals. We resisted the temptation to create flow-charts, choosing to stare into the horizon instead. On our way back to Newport Beach we stopped for more fish tacos (when in Rome…) and then promptly ran into members of my family in the hotel lobby.


After the obligatory hugs and hellos, we scattered about with plans to meet up again before the rehearsal dinner that evening. Scott and Kelly wanted to see the water and do something active so the four of us walked down to Balboa Island and Newport Beach, catching up and just enjoying each other’s company.



That night we attended the rehearsal dinner and then met up at a bar afterwards. All of my family flew in from the east coast so most of us tapped out at midnight and went back to the hotel. Next up – the wedding, more overcast weather, and Malibu.


The Start of Our Better-Late-Than-Never Spring Break

A couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed a stay-cation during the little guy’s spring break due to Clay’s schedule. While his classmates jetted off to the beach, traveled overseas, and experienced Disney World, we played tourists in our backyard with family visiting from out-of-town. Now that it is toward the end of April, we’re finally enjoying our spring break vacation – just a couple of weeks later than everyone else. Because Weston starts kindergarten next year, this will likely be our last year traveling outside of school breaks…we’re taking advantage of him being in pre-K while we can!


Apparently so is he.

Here is the little guy showing me the ‘phone number’ a girl gave him at school.

He’s five. FIVE!

But that’s enough about the social politics of preschool – let’s get back to our better late than never spring break. So when Clay discovered he had to go TDY to Fort Bragg, NC the day before our scheduled trip to his parents outside of Wilmington, NC, we decided to leave a day early and have the kids and I accompany him to the home of the 82nd Airborne Division. On Thursday afternoon, we loaded up the family roadster and headed south (thank you HOV lanes), like so many times before…only this time it didn’t take us two hours to travel 15 miles. Success!


Because we had Lucy with us (like most of our road trips) our dining options were limited because very few restaurants are welcoming of a dog in the dining area. Lucky for us, the April weather was perfect for a take-out picnic dinner alongside I-95 on the Virginia/North Carolina border. There was even a drive-thru Starbucks next door…talk about a classy stop.


With road names like these, we knew we were close to Fayetteville!


Having family stationed at Fort Bragg has been wonderful during our time in the Washington DC area. It was great seeing Martha, Edward, and the kids again and having them graciously let us invade their house for the night. On Friday evening, once Clay was finished with his business on post, we piled into the Outback and headed for the coast while throwing yogurt bites into the backseat in effort to appease the restless little ones.


We were greeted by Clay’s parents. And rain.

Lots and lots of rain.

Womp. Womp.


On Saturday, we went to Ocean Isle and then down to Hamburger Joe’s in Surfside Beach, SC. We did our best to make the most of the day, despite the rain. The expansive beach on Ocean Isle was absolutely beautiful – the reflection due to the rain was actually quite ethereal.



Yesterday morning, the clouds finally parted so we booked it to Wrightsville Beach as fast as we could. We spent the morning on the beach and took advantage of the bright sun and slight breeze. We couldn’t have asked for a better day on the beach.


 These two were ready to get their beach on!




We’re taking the kids back to the beach this morning and then Clay and I are leaving for the kid-free portion of this spring break getaway (woohoo!). Clay’s parents graciously (foolishly?) offered to watch the kids so we can attend my cousin’s wedding in California so we decided to turn it into a kid-free vacation. While we will miss the kids terribly, we’re so looking forward to escaping the east coast for a little while. If you’re so inclined, please feel free to follow along on Instagram. If not, I’ll be back with a recap sometime next week.

Open Windows

Yesterday, I woke up at 5:30am to do nothing other than to be alone. I didn’t run, I didn’t workout, I didn’t do anything active. I simply drank the most the most wonderful cup of coffee uninterrupted while listening to the rain through open living room windows. Lucy was at my feet, looking up at me with milk cow eyes, hinting for a walk, despite the wet weather while the rest of the house caught their last few moments of sleep.


We’re currently in that most glorious stretch of spring – the handful days when air conditioning is unnecessary and open windows are enough. The breeze billows the curtains (the few we actually have) and flutters whatever loose papers are scattered about the house. If only the cut flowers from Easter weren’t wilting (my thumb is black) and the window panes weren’t decorated with sticky handprints that are suspiciously the same size as our daughter’s – it perhaps, just perhaps could be a magazine-perfect picture or at the very least, Facebook-worthy.

I suppose you could say that I’m trying to open more windows in my life – literally and figuratively. While I certainly don’t feel old, the reality of my mortality is more present than it was during my twenties. Clay often responds with “Don’t talk like that!” when I ask if I am going to die without seeing the Eiffel Tower in person (yes, I’ve never been to Paris and yes, 13-year-old Karen is quite mad at 32-year-old Karen), let alone something more exotic like…walking across the Hanging Bridge of Ghasa in Nepal.


That’s not to say that I don’t think my life is full, quite the contrary – I’ve been married to an incredible man for over 10 years and together we have two children who challenge us daily to be the best versions of ourselves. I am healthy and I am alive. What could there possibly be to complain about? But nestled within my thankfulness and gratefulness for such a wonderful life is a small fear of complacency. I know I’m not alone in this fear – after all, not many of us want a life less lived. I want to expose myself to elements that are new and sometimes scary. I want to be uncomfortable more and cozy less (maybe that is why I enjoy moving every 2-3 years?). While I have been making an effort to apply such ideas into practice, I know I need to open more windows and not let fear of the unknown inhibit my goals and dream, not matter how seemingly unattainable.

There will always be people wanting to shut the windows you’ve opened – naysayers who laugh at your goals and would rather see you fail than achieve what they can’t or aren’t at least willing to try. But just because they’re comfortable in their air-conditioned rooms, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be slightly uncomfortable and focused on the opportunities found on the other side of the open window.

I had full intention of waking up at 5:30am again this morning but I forgot to set my alarm. Instead, I awoke shortly thereafter due to fire sirens heard through our open bedroom window. The universe can be amusing like that.

“We must be brave. It is one thing to speculate about what might be. It is quite another to act in behalf of our dreams, to treat them as objectives that are achievable and worth achieving. It is one thing to run from unhappiness; it is another to take action to realize those qualities of dignity and well-being that are the true standards of the human spirit.” Tim O’Brien, Going After Cacciato