Monday, September 18, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: So It Goes

This is a pretty good representation of how I feel right now. An old picture, but still relevant.

I got the email I was waiting for today, while I sat in my car waiting for the AC to gear up (summer is really hanging on with some seriously muggy talons this week in Rochester).

It didn't work. It was negative.

I feel a little shellshocked...I am sad, so sad, but I can't seem to express it at the moment.

I am grieving for this couple who is trying so hard to add to their family of two.

I am grieving for my genes which will never continue on, and for the realization that I won't be receiving any letters or pictures of a little girl or boy with curly hair or gray-blue eyes or knock knees.

I am grieving for my optimism in some ways -- how stupid I feel for thinking that it could ever go any other way when we are involved, that my hope that these embryos with someone else could become something more than yet another personal tragedy, with shockwaves racing outward from the Midwest.

I am just dumbfounded. And I can't help but feel that for as sad as I feel, the couple who received the negative test must be just devastated. I remember that feeling, and all the sadness-anger-disbelief-numbness that goes with it. I am just so sorry, even though I know it's not my fault.

Au revoir, the last of the Jess possibilities. I hope that the Bryce batch holds the secret to a positive outcome, somewhere in this tangled web of infertility.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Weird, Vicarious Two Week Wait

We had an update on the embryo adoption process, around Labor Day weekend. They decided to thaw the blastocysts, which are my eggs and donor sperm. 

One didn't survive the thaw, so they did a single embryo transfer. 

I am trying not to read anything into that. Why does it seem that we are cursed with everything that touches our infertility journey? We NEVER had any frozens not make it to thaw and transfer. I don't know if it's just that particular embryo, or because these embryos have traveled so much. It makes me nervous. 

You know what else makes me nervous? That the transfer was going to be at the end of August, we got an update that it happened and wasn't affected by Harvey (because wouldn't you know the clinic is in Texas, but luckily not an area that was affected by the flooding). And now it's SEPTEMBER 14TH. 

Those were blasts, 5-day embryos (technically frozen on day 6). So, uh, that test should have happened by now, right? 

Going to the other side, I cannot imagine going through a two week wait knowing that some other couple with some small (miniscule, really) stake in game is awaiting your news. That you have to accept that phone call, process it, and at some point (preferably sooner than later) update Snowflakes so that they can update us. That would be real weird. And I might feel a mite resentful in the moment. 

But we haven't heard anything, and I find myself in the incredibly odd position of NOT being in a two week wait (not my baby, not my pregnancy), but also TOTALLY being in a weird psychosomatic two week wait because this is the last of my genetic material that has a chance to become something, and I can't stop thinking about it. 

I can't stop wondering...did it work? 

If it did, that will be bittersweet for sure, but it will be something happy for them and sad for us and happy for us at the same time -- one of them made it! It will probably create some level of feeling like WHY THE HELL COULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN US, and wondering if all the people who offered us their uteruses (some posthumously offered  uteruses that don't exist anymore, "oh if only I hadn't had that hysterectomy a few years ago!") maybe had the right idea and it would be worth the legal rigamarole and tricky logistics of gestational carrier in NY state. But there's hope that something good could come of all this mess, although it would be good in the most vicarious of ways on our end. 

I am terrified that it didn't work, and that the last of my possibility for passing some level of my genetic presence on has left this world. Which puts another layer of finality into our situation. I think actually a negative test would feel far worse at this point, because it would possibly have me relive the losses that brought us to this point, and feel the terminal nature of our situation. 

But now I am awash in a sea of uncertainty. Waiting for an email (thankfully the phone is no longer my frenemy in the voice sense). I stalk the red M icon that means I got a new message, and am always disappointed when it's actually something from a shopping site, or a credit card reminder, and slightly less disappointed when it tells me that my latest Stitch Fix has shipped. Ha. 

I go through the old cycling thought patterns...if they are waiting to notify us, is it good news? Bad news? Is it waiting to see that beta numbers are strong, or not having the wherewithal to call and say that yet another cycle didn't work out? I can't imagine adding that layer of complexity. It was hard enough to deal with those calls when it was just us who were in the loop. But every day that goes by without news has me wildly speculating all kinds of scenarios, none of them really productive or helpful. 

I cannot wait for all this to be over, and hopefully have good results. I hope it works. I hope that we hear sooner than later. It would be nice to have this one last uncertainty in this arena come to a close. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Finding a New Quote for "Who I Am"



When rewriting my model "Who I Am" essay for my students, I realized I didn't just have to update the part about my dreams of having a child...I needed to update the quote in the opening paragraph, too.

Last year it was, "Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory," said by George S. Patton. Well, I accepted the challenges but I wasn't left feeling exhilarated in my victory, but battered and reduced to transformative goo, so it just felt...wrong. The quote is supposed to relate to your life, to introduce this idea of Who I Am. And that just didn't feel like a representative quote anymore.

So I found this one:

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 
- Helen Keller

Way, WAY better, no? And applicable to so, so many different types of trial and suffering. Good one, Helen Keller.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who I Am

The beginning of the school year is a funny time. I feel an incredible degree of anticipation (and a fair amount of anxiety) for the new year. Teaching is like a miracle of rebirth -- you have this whole year to build up a community and have your classroom evolve into a brand new microcosm, and then it ends you start again with a different group the following year. You could do the same exact thing every year (but why would you?) and it would still be completely different because of the different personalities, the different climate of the world around us, the different groups of students, the different dynamics of parents, and clearly yourself -- the world builder. I love this about teaching, that it's got a sort of life cycle of its own, and every year is a new chance to have an amazing time with a new group of young people, teaching and learning and growing together.

I am really struggling with some dynamics of this coming year, though...and I am hoping that this anxiety will be short-lived and that this year will be the hardest of all the ones to come because it is a year of transition.

It's the first time I am starting a new year as a full-time, probationary/tenured teacher that I am not embroiled in family building (unless you count the continuing mystery of embryo adoption/donation). And I so recently was. That was so much of my identity, and now it is gone, past tense instead of present and future.

Which wouldn't be such a big deal if I wasn't so open about our journey, or if I didn't have students who are younger siblings of students I had when I had to give the "my phone could ring at any time" spiel, or if it was true as I thought that our websites from last year were going away at the beginning of the year rather than December, so it still says that we are "patiently waiting for the call that will change our lives" when that is just not true anymore. When asked "do you have kids?" I won't get to say "not yet" or "hopefully soon" or "we're working on it," I'm left with, "No." or "I have cats." or "That didn't quite work out as expected."

It wouldn't be such a big deal if I didn't have FOUR things that I have to redo because of this change:

- My website (we are switching to google sites, and I am woefully behind, but my About Me page won't have any mention of kids or their possibility.)
- My Quotes To Inspire Poster (in resource, now work lab this year, I had students pick a quote to lift them up on tough days and surround it with pictures (drawn or printed and colored) that share stuff about who they are -- mine had "MYSTERY BABY" on it with a pink and a blue question mark...clearly can't use that one anymore.)
- My letter for the gen ed English class where I am the consultant teacher (The English teacher I work with has this wonderful start to the year activity where he (and now me, too) writes a letter to the students about beginnings, family of origin, education, career, family, hopes for the year and then we have the students write one back to us. They tell us a TON about the kids. In the interest of being honest and showing that things sometimes take a turn you don't expect, I include my divorce and then  finding Mr. Jess, and then I mentioned the cats and our quest for parenthood through adoption. CLEARLY I have to edit that one. Working on it today and tomorrow and hoping to get it to a place where it is still honest but doesn't make people question my sense of boundaries...ha HA ha ha.)
- My project for my self-contained English Class, Who I Am. Oh, Who I Am. I did it for the first time last year, based on a very short personal essay in the literature textbook called "Who You Are" by Jean Little. It talks about how you can be a million different things and it's okay to not want to define yourself in ORs but instead with ANDs (I hear it in Lori Lavender Luz's voice all the time). That you can be an airline pilot AND a lighthouse keeper in your mind, that now is a time of possibility and you don't have to lock yourself in to one identity...and the identity you see for yourself may be different than what people perceive on the outside. It's short but powerful and I use it as a model text for the students' first piece of writing for me.

Naturally, I write one about myself, too. And again my adoption journey made an appearance, and my hopes for a family of my own beyond me and Bryce. Because that's been so much of Who I Am.

So WHO AM I, now?

Now that I am not striving for something that just didn't come to pass, now that I am not beating my bloodied forehead against a wall without actually going through the door I'd wanted? Now that I had years of trauma and unhappiness trying to get through a door that apparently didn't exist for me, but once I took the other door (for the source of all this door talk, please go to Mali's amazing post about Infertility's Waiting Room, which is a must-read) I found a peace and the promise of a new life, although not the one I thought I'd have?

I think it's so important for students to know that you can work at something and have it not work out, and that you can BE OKAY if this happens. You can adjust your sails, or brush off the ginormous pile of shit you've landed in and take a different, less shit-laden path (yeah, probably going with the sails one if I'm going to address this with 13 year olds). I don't think I have to talk ovaries and miscarriages or anything, but it's okay for me to say we wanted kids and it didn't work out in the end after trying so many things and becoming exhausted in ways I didn't quite know were possible. That life goes on, and it can find a way to be beautiful.

So who am I? 

I'm a teacher who cares not only about her students' academic learning but the development of their character.

I'm a beloved wife of a beloved husband and in awe of the life we've built together, the parts that have worked out better than we'd hoped and the parts that are metamorphosing from the goo of our personal tragedies.

I'm a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, daughter-in-law, cousin, friend, Mother of Cats.

I am a gardener, a cultivator of green things and fluttery and slithery things that come to visit my wild(ish) spaces.

I am a creator of cozy spaces in my home.

I am the creator of music (when I pick up the violin that has been fairly dormant recently, shame shame shame).

I am a reader, an escapee into different worlds both totally invented and incredibly true.

I am a writer, telling my story with honesty and a smidgen of dark humor. Putting it out there to both not feel so alone in all this and to help other people not feel so alone, to shed a little light on what it's like to not always get what you want, to end up "empty handed" at the end of the day (although my hands are often full of cat, and dirt, and Bryce's broad shoulders or stubbly face, and keyboard, and thin paper pages...).


The beginning of the school year is hard, but beautiful in all the possibilities that await. I will figure out how to rewrite the things that need rewriting in a way that is professional yet is true to who I am, and how things can turn out -- messy but beautiful, petals and thorns, and unfurling buds of all the good stuff to come.


This is not in any way a microblog, but if you'd like to read some actual concise posts, go here and enjoy! :)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Embryo Adoption When You're Not Adopting Anymore

I haven't really posted too many updates on the embryo adoption process, because everything else was so much more front-of-mind. But we are still involved in it, which is more than a little strange given our circumstance.

Giving another couple a chance at conception, pregnancy, and parenting with the embryos we couldn't transfer has a slightly different feeling now that we aren't going to be parents anymore.

It still feels absolutely like the right decision. But now I really don't know how things will feel either way that this process goes.

The couple who have the embryos previously known as ours endured a negative test in May when they transferred another embryo that they'd had from a different family. I had mixed emotions because of course I was sad for them, they have been through so much grief through their infertility journey, but it also meant that "our" embryos were next in line for a chance. I was very sad for them, but at the same time I felt hope that maybe it will be our embryos that bring them the happiness we never reached. And a little guilt that I was secretly glad that we were closer to finding out how this will all play out.

They are transferring embryos this month (um, only a couple days left so I'm feeling a little antsy) and I have no idea if they are the ones that are my eggs and donor sperm or donor eggs and Bryce's sperm. I don't know if they planned to do what we would have done, had I been able to get to transfer at the end -- thaw the 2PNs (donor egg) and see what grows, then have the blasts (donor sperm) for backup if they don't grow to whatever stage they would need to get to to transfer. I feel like I am living vicariously through this couple and I don't quite have enough information so I'm doing it blindfolded.

Which is appropriate in some ways, you know? Because while I have a vested interest in what happens with these embryos, they aren't mine anymore. If they are successful (and I really, really hope they are) we will have a very strange place on the family tree indeed. We will get updates, and then letters and pictures, and we'll get to see what a child we created at the embryonic stage would have looked like, without it actually being our child.

And now, we will be on the sidelines watching all this play out without the benefit of being parents ourselves. Which in a way makes us feel more vested in what happens, but not in an inappropriate way.

We were talking about the embryos the other day, and I can say honestly that Bryce is a better person than I am. He thinks of the donation as mainly giving another couple a chance at what we couldn't have. He thinks of the couple first and foremost, and that he can give them something amazing hopefully with this gift. Which made me feel a little badly, because while I absolutely see the parenting possibilities of the couple as an amazing benefit of the donation/adoption, I thought more about the embryos and the chance they would get. I've said before that I do not believe in personhood as a general rule, but these embryos have a special place in my heart, because they're the only ones that still exist that have a piece of me or Bryce in them. It's probably easier given that none of them are BOTH of us, but it is still a funny thing, to have 8 of the 35 we created still out there in limbo, tiny cellular masses of different developmental levels just brimming with possibility.

And I'm okay that the possibility lies with someone else. There wasn't possibility with me anymore, and surrogacy is not an option for us. This is the best place for them to go. They will have a chance, and give someone else who knows our pain the chance we didn't have. And, selfishly, maybe we'll get answers.

If they are successful, if they get pregnant and stay that way, then we will know with some certainty that the issue was with my uterus, for sure. The ultimate issue, I should say. It will be hard, but also a release. To know would allow me to let go of some of the burden I hang onto. It will hurt, and there's a string of What Ifs that could strangle me easily if I let it, but it will also be peaceful to know an answer, finally. Also to know that we gave those little babylings a life, even if it's not with us. Which is hard to think on, that someone else is going to have a nursery and a child with the towheaded curly hair I envisioned, and I sit here typing in my office that has a smattering of board books and a little corner of wall decal to hint at what once could have been its purpose.

But it is a hopeful thought. I hope that these embryos are the answer for this couple who's been left answerless and grieving too many times. I hope that they have at least two children, one from each set, so that we each get the chance to have a person out there who shares our genetic legacy. That would be so cool. I don't know what would happen if only one set works, and one of us has that and the other doesn't, that would be difficult but no more so than any other situation we've found ourselves in over the past 8 years. I refuse to entertain a third option. I have to believe that somehow, something will go right somewhere in this sticky family building web we wove and tangled.

It will help ease the loss of the other 27 embryos that came and went, some more swiftly than others, if some of the remaining 8 can make it to another plane of existence. I wish it had been with us, but it makes me feel better to know that they have a better chance with this other family. Even better that we get the option of knowing what happens to them. Who knows what could happen? How strange it is to receive a call or email updating me on the progress of a cycle (or a pregnancy hopefully) that has so very little to do with us...and yet has everything to do with us. From a distance. Like looking in on some other dimension of possibility that's not for us but that we are linked to nonetheless.

I am grateful that this option exists. I am nervous for the couple who is probably far more nervous than I am about all the possibilities for joy and loss. I am hoping that everything goes well on all counts this time: for the couple's hopes and dreams, for the embryos' chance to be, for our closure and lingering feelings of loss. I would love to see something beautiful emerge from the ashes of our own hopes.

Monday, August 28, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Things I Survived Recently



I know that I am better every day, and more at peace with our situation, because I am able to handle situations without flopping down onto the floor, face in the carpet fibers. Might I get into a bit of a funk? Sure. But I can handle some interesting things SO MUCH BETTER than even a few months ago (and really, it's only been a few months, so I'm calling this pretty effing amazing):

- I had to call the vet to renew my cat's prozac prescription (just let that sink in for a second), and they wouldn't do it without setting up an appointment for the following week. While information was being entered into the computer, the tech said, "Hey, how is the adoption going?" and I replied, "Well, it went. We're no longer pursuing that." She was a little caught off guard, and said "what?" so I explained (minimally) that this past year was incredibly difficult and we just hit the point where we couldn't sustain the mental exhaustion and cumulative heartbreak anymore, and so we decided to live the life we already have. And I didn't cry, not even when I got off the phone, and she said "Wow, that's awesome that you have the strength to do that." I mean, she told me about another client who brought their baby home after seven (SEVEN) years of waiting through adoption, and that she had no idea it was that hard, but she didn't say anything real dumb. And I didn't overshare. Or cry, which is a particular point of pride because I was really caught off guard and was thinking about how many other service providers I've forgotten will ask over the next year. BONUS POINTS TO ME!

- My mom offhandedly mentioned that they were cancelling their "grandparents' membership" at the local science museum, because my sister's stepsons are too old to be interested (19 and 24) and there isn't a need to have it anymore. I know it wasn't meant to be stabby, but is it necessary to tell me that you don't need a grandparents' membership anymore? Eh, probably not. I did not cry. I did not say anything. I just let it go.

- At a party celebrating the end of construction on my mom and stepfather's deck over the lake, a neighbor of theirs asked me if my cousiniece (my stepfather's brother's daughter, who feels more niece-y than cousin-y because her parents are only 7 years older than me) was my DAUGHTER. Um, she's SIXTEEN. And also, I lived there for a time while going through my divorce, and that was 10 or so years ago, so where exactly was I hiding my six year old? I did NOT say those things, I just said, "Oh! No, she's my...my stepfather's brother's daughter." But then he said, "Well, then where are YOUR kids?" and I just replied with "Oh, I don't have any." I really wish I'd thought to say "I don't know, do you? Where are my damn kids?" But, he's older (and seemed a bit out of it) so I let it go. Even when he said "Who's that young man then?" pointing at my sister's stepson, and I was like, "oh no, he belongs to them" pointing at my sister and her husband. Sheesh. It seemed like he just wanted to find me some children. Which would have been nice, but it doesn't work that way. I did not cry or go hide in a corner and mope. I did not say anything horribly embarrassing or overshare-y. Which is a minor accomplishment.

So, there. Some moments more difficult than others, but I survived 'em all. Go me.



Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Friday, August 25, 2017

On This Day...

I keep seeing people posting things on Facebook that fall under "Memories" -- something posted on this day a year ago, or three, or five, or whatever. It's a feature I never take advantage of: I feel like it's negligible how interesting THIS year's posts are about my flowers or cats or food, so why go back to what will probably be some cringe-worthy thing from yesteryear?

But I was curious. So I clicked on a friend's post where it said "See Your Memories."

Well, August 25th was an interesting day over the years. I sort of wish I hadn't done it.

2016: 
I am filled with consternation that while looking up whether or not "All By Myself" was influenced by or sampling Rachmaninoff's piano concerto (because I heard the piano concerto on Pandora and started belting), Wikipedia did NOT mention Bridget Jones' Diary as a movie reference. WHAT? But that's the BEST ONE!



2015: 
My Knockout Rose bush mutated into a bicolor light and dark pink thing, with one rose split right down the middle.

2014: 
I was apparently so consumed with the end of summer that I forgot the Emmys were on the night before. My god, what a thrilling memory that one is. 2014 me is SO FASCINATING.

2013: 
Cute photos from a walk in a nearby nature park that has fairy houses and a swamp with boardwalks that I think just looks plain magical. We look so young (and slim) and happy here!

Normal...

And our trademark goofball face

We saw deer and a fawn who did not even remotely seem bothered by our presence.

2012:
A freaking tree falls on our house (well, garage). Good news/bad news -- the shed was saved, and it only fell on the garage, but it took out the gutters and the fencing. PS, it was a totally clear and still night.

See the grill? We were literally standing there less than two hours earlier.
PPS -- this was not the most disastrous thing to happen in August, as I also miscarried that summer. Just a couple weeks earlier.

2011: 
"Home again home again jiggety jig." Seems, innocuous, right? Until you see that it's home from the HOSPITAL where I had my EMERGENT SURGERY to remove the ectopic pregnancy before it tried to kill me, and my right tube. Many, many comments of support and disbelief on that post. I cannot believe that was six years ago. How is that possible? It seems like both another lifetime away and like yesterday.

2010:
"Birds flying high you know how I feel; sun in the sky you know how I feel; breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel..."
That's courtesy of Percoset and my first retrieval. The birds weren't the only ones flying high.

2009: 
Odd question about beer in the fridge, since I had just gone gluten free due to celiac and wasn't sure how long it would stay good or if I should just gift it to people now. Also apparently I was singing the praises of a local barbecue joint. Oh, pre-IVF me, such simple issues and joys at your disposal...


It was interesting to look back and see what this day held year after year after year, starting with the summer before we got married. And also, more than a bit sad.

See, I don't hold those dates in my head. I keep them here. So I didn't realize that today and yesterday held significance. I know that summers were awful, and I remember August 2011 and July/August 2012, but I don't remember the dates. If I feel a need to remember acutely how I felt in those moments, I can reread my posts from the ectopic debacle, or my miscarriage a year later. I do actually do that from time to time, but I don't feel the need to burn into my brain exactly when those things happened. So I was caught a little off guard.

Bryce said that he thinks it says a lot about Facebook, this memories thing. Most people post positive things. Most posts are likely "oh, look, that's the day so and so was wearing that rabbit onesie!" or "What a great date that was!" or "Ahhh, what a great barbecue/bottle of wine/walk along the lakeshore that was!" But here I was like, "Huh, I didn't realize this was the day I came home from the hospital, AND the day I was loopy from my very first egg retrieval, AND the day a tree fell on our house after we had a miscarriage (definitely leading us to believe that we had somehow wronged someone horribly in a past life or something). I wonder if the reason I forgot about the Emmys was because I was in the tail end of fertility treatment and I probably had just failed my frozen egg donor cycle and was reeling, looking for answers I would never find. It's a lot of not so great moments in our life, which peppered the last 7+ years like I pepper my cottage cheese (I like it practically gray).

But on the other hand, the rose is unusual and pretty, I love those pictures of us in the magical swamp, and I am always cheered up by a very drunk Bridget listening to Sad FM. Those were memories that made me not so sad.

I look forward to having more positive things to look back on as the years go by -- less reminders of personal tragedy cropping up unexpectedly, and more pictures of us happy and having a good time together. Maybe on a coast somewhere.

Monday, August 21, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: I Should Have Listened To You

Remember back in May when you guys gave me the sage advice to find another therapist? Because it seemed like she didn't really get what I was all about, because it seemed she was trying to make me rethink my decision rather than helping me move forward with the decision that was most definitely, thoughtfully made?

Well, I am a dumbass.

Because while I had a phone conversation before having another session, I did stay with her -- I made it clear that the decision was done and I was looking to work through the grief associated with it but not examine whether or not I made the right decision. And it worked out okay, for a little while.

Until I shared before our vacation trip that two people that I knew had brought their babies home through adoption, and that it had thrown me for a loop and put me facedown on the floor and I was really feeling like the Universe was flipping us the bird and testing the strength of our decision making process.

Well, I was encouraged to examine my decision, and assured that "no decision is ever final" and that examining the "what ifs" of how we got to this point is not a futile exercise that has no worth because YOU CAN'T CHANGE WHAT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED, but worth looking into. (Why? To see if I have regrets? Who doesn't question decisions along the way? But that doesn't translate into REGRET, per se. Also, we passed the test of our convictions, thankyouverymuch.)

I felt misunderstood, I felt like the last thing I need is someone who is encouraging me to keep a door open that it took a shitload of strength and presence of mind (with the health of my mind and body in the balance) to close. I don't want that. I don't want to leave feeling worse than when I walked in. I don't want to have my (admittedly borderline inappropriate, gallows-type) sense of humor misinterpreted, misunderstood, and having generally confuzzled the person listening to my stories.

So before I left the parking lot, I called a social worker who we saw for some couples work during some adoption decision making and left a message to set up an appointment, if appropriate. Why "if appropriate?" Because she is my amazing therapist who moved away's MOTHER. (Small world here, I guess.)

And you know what? I freaking wish I had listened to you the first time. The first lady didn't get it. This new(ish) person GETS IT and GETS ME and...TAKES INSURANCE. Not only that, she asked if I have an HSA account because I could pay with that. The amount of money that flew out of my account with someone who didn't quite fit right makes me so mad at myself. This is a better fit in every possible way. (And not just because she dropped at least two f-bombs in our session, which is a total plus.)

I feel like I am finally on the right track.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

California "Honeymoon": Carmel-by-the-Sea

While Napa had my absolute favorite place to stay, I have to say that the Carmel-by-the-Sea leg of our trip was my favorite for cool things to do, and beautiful beach, and great weather.

We left Napa on Wednesday, and decided to drive through San Jose to get to Carmel-by-the-Sea so we could see the Winchester House. And get some Philz Coffee. In whatever order made the most sense.

We went to the Winchester House first, and packed everything in the car in ice (some cheese, a salami, most importantly the wine from Biale and the half bottle from the Inn on Randolph welcome basket...heat will destroy cheese but it REALLY kills wine), and off we went for our hour tour of 110 of the 160 rooms in this wacky house. Sadly I have no pictures from the front, and none inside were allowed, but the two from the side and back show the expansiveness and oddness of the house.

If you don't know the story (I didn't until Bryce said he was dying to go), the house belonged to Sarah Winchester, whose husband was of the firearm Winchesters. They had a lot of money but the story is real sad, since she lost her daughter as an infant to an illness and then, fifteen years later her husband died of tuberculosis, leaving her a (ridiculously wealthy) widow. They didn't have any other children (maybe she was one of us). She believed in mediums and seances, and apparently was told that the spirits of all the people killed by Winchesters were restless and would come after her, too, if she didn't keep building onto her house (maybe that medium was in cahoots with the lumber company, I don't know...). And so she did -- she had to build EVERY SINGLE DAY, 365 days per year, to make the spirits happy. She'd have a seance that would tell her what to do, and the builders would get going right away. There is all kinds of wackiness in the house -- 160 rooms for one -- stairways to the ceiling, a door on the second story that opens to nothing but fresh air and a drop, windows and patterns that honor the number 13, tilted walls, switchback staircases (with rises of about 2 inches, less spooky and more to accommodate her elderly mobility needs)... it's insane. So we went on a guided tour.

The side of the house, see the Door To Nowhere?

A view from the back. From those terraces up top you could see the insanity of the rooflines.
 It was highly entertaining. Also, in case you were afraid for it, the wine and food for lunch survived the heat of the parking lot.

We ate our baguette and cheese and salami, a very French picnic lunch, in our car in the parking lot of some manufacturing facility that had the back entrance to a Beni-Hana. Not even remotely scenic, and I think we scared some employees, but it was yummy and we didn't have time to search for a better place as we wanted to get our Philz Coffee and get on the road to Carmel.

Philz Coffee is an amazing invention, where you choose your roast and then they make it, ONE CUP AT A TIME, with a slow pour that is invisible behind the high counter. It is amazingly good. I was sad we only got it once, but that one time was well worth it. I didn't take a picture of anything but their bulletin board of analog memes outside the restroom. They were hilarious.


If you can read these, they are really funny. I didn't get to go to bathroom though because someone apparently decided to set up shop in there, so it looked like I went back there just to take a picture of the pre-potty reading material. Huh.

And then we arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea, after experiencing some California traffic.

After checking into our hotel, the very lovely Carmel Country Inn, we walked down to the beach. And by down I mean DOWN, because the town is basically built on a hill that leads straight down to the ocean. After San Francisco it was not that bad though. Carmel's beach was amazing, and we went most nights for sunset, and one afternoon to mess around in the surf in our bathing suits (thankfully for you, no pictures of that!). We had four days in Carmel, so beach time was a must. Carmel is amazing for natural beauty. And now, for a ridiculous number of beach pictures.



Just look at that! And not at Bryce's elbow...

The water was...COLD

Seriously, the SUNSETS

Quite possibly my favorite picture of Bryce, EVER

That is just to beautiful to be true! But it is...

Happy, relaxed, sunset shot at the top of the stairs from the beach

See those two dark blobs a little left of center? Those are sea otters. Swimming RIGHT THERE! They were adorable, but too difficult to photograph without fancy telephoto lens stuff, so you get adorable blobs. Sorry.
It was insanely gorgeous. And what I loved about Carmel-by-the-Sea was that it had surprising everyday beauty, too, that was just waiting to be discovered by people who noticed.

These are tiles in the sidewalk, that you might not notice if you didn't look down. 

Beautiful butterflies

A heron

For some reason these little quails were everywhere in California

Sweet statue at a corner park, something to aspire to

These are the street flowers. I have petunias and impatiens at home on the streets, and they have heliotrope and verbena! Gorgeous!

Our hotel had beauty, too -- we had a suite here with a sitting area and gas fireplace (we loved our gas fireplaces!) and a little veranda with a sliding glass door. The weird thing was that they didn't have air conditioning, because it's pretty much always 65 during the day (and 50s at night), but there was a bit of a heat wave when we were there and it was 70, so it got a bit hot. The solution was to leave your windows open and the screen door open, except there were NO SCREENS. Everyone did it, and it seemed safe, but I could not get the idea of skulking killers trying to get into our room to kill us in our sleep, so we had fans and shut the sliding glass door when it was time for bed. The people at our inn were really friendly and personable, and it was gluten-friendly! Not quite the smorgasbord of food we had in Napa, but there were mini quiches that were crustless and gluten free, and they had a selection of gluten free breads and...a gluten free TOASTER! That may seem weird, but I really need a separate toaster due to cross-contamination. It's parts per million that can get me sick, and these people got it! It was lovely.

The bedroom window

From our veranda... I mean, who's going to climb over that? But still. Shut the door. 

All the doors were dutch doors, and you kept the top open as long as you could until bed. Good thing there's really no mosquitoes! 

One of the days we were in Carmel-by-the-Sea we went to the Monterey Aquarium. We thought maybe going on a Thursday would be less crowded, because families would go on the weekend...but we totally forgot about summer camps. Even crowded, it was phenomenal. I took about a bazillion pictures, but here are my favorites:

Hey shark! And that cloudiness is the anemones letting off spores or something.

Hey, what are you looking at!

Adorable little sandpiper

Jellies!

More Jellies!

Tiny, lightbulb filament looking jellies!

Some kind of squidy thing

Octopus!

Pacific octopus egg strings

This is a baby cuttlefish...eating some kind of tiny krill! Zap, it caught it!

This is a flamboyant cuttlefish, and the colors on its back pulsed like disco lights.

Creepy alien nautilus 

Odd snake (there was a Baja California exhibit with desert things, this snake just shed its skin which is why its eye is milky and vulturelike, a la "The Telltale Heart"
Flotsam and Jetsam! 

Dory!

Nemo!

Swarm-y anchovies!

Just us in the kelp forest
It was way cool. When I was little I wanted to be a marine biologist, and this brought all that excitement back.

Before I share our Pacific Coast Highway adventures, let's talk food in Carmel. They had some seriously delicious food options, and I ate like freaking royalty, all gluten free. I didn't get sick ONCE on this trip, which is phenomenal (and a low benchmark). We went to a little French restaurant TWICE, La Bicyclette, because it was so yummy and we enjoyed the ambience. We went to one of the best Mexican restaurants we've been to while traveling, too at the recommendation of our server at La Bicyclette -- Cultura Comida y Bebida. And, not pictured, we had yummy oysters and I had fish and chips (FISH AND CHIPS! GLUTEN FREE!) at Flaherty's, which had an extensive gluten free menu. Even the aquarium had a restaurant that had delicious gluten free options. It was heaven.

Stone Fruit Salad at La Bicyclette

Roasted Mushroom gluten free woodfired pizza...the "sauce" is a carmelized onion jam (!)

Bryce's "normal" margherita pizza

The right side of the restaurant was done up to look like a French street cafe (tried to get a shot with no people)

Rockfish tacos at the aquarium! Oddly enough I saw a rockfish earlier in the day. 

Yummy wild mushroom soup at La Bicyclette, second fancier night

The best duck I've ever had in a restaurant. It had fig sauce, and a fresh fig, and roasted celeriac (that's the worm looking thing), roasted kale, and romanesco (that fractal-y broccoli-looking thing). It was to die for. 

Bryce's crazy seafood linguine. There was lobster and octopus and mussels and clams and all kinds of crazy stuff in there!


Isn't that cool for an entrance? Cultura was amazingly good food and ambience.

I should have worn my napkin on my boobs again. This is before I got queso fundido grease all over my nice chambray top. (I made matters worse by trying to get it out with water and soap in the bathroom, then I had a greasy WET top on. It did come out though, so I win.)

They mixed the queso fundido at tableside with flaming mezcal added in, and you could add the chopped chilies to the level of heat you were comfortable with. It was completely delicious. I forgave it for making my shirt look like I was a 3-year old.

Bryce got a mezcal flight, and it came with accompaniments including chapulines, surprisingly delicious roasted crickets (or grasshoppers, but they look tiny for grasshoppers). I ate TWO...aren't you proud? 

Street tacos, one chicken and one beef. Nom nom nom

Completely delicious and cheesy street corn

To top it all off, two tiny mugs of Mexican hot chocolate.
It's a miracle I still fit into my pants. I think the reason why is that there was good walking and good hiking... thank goodness!

We took one day to travel down the Pacific Highway as far south as we could until it was closed due to landslides (and apparently a bridge that went out, gulp). That was seriously beautiful. We stopped early on in Carmel Meadows for some seaside hiking, and then went straight down the highway, only stopping at a couple turnoffs for scenic views, until we got to the Big Sur River Inn, where we had lunch by the river. (Surprise surprise, street tacos! And a burrito for Bryce.) I was sad I couldn't get to McElway falls, and we wanted to hike where the ocean was, so it was suggested that we go to Andrew Moleta State Park. It seemed like a very touristy beachy place (there were people in flip flops on the dusty trail to get to the beach, and people with surfboards and sandcastle equipment), but once we got onto the beach and walked away from the immediate trailhead, it was a surreal and beautiful place. We stopped at some overlooks on the way back up, and went to Soberanes Point in Garrapata State Park, which was absolutely gorgeous. It was a great day of hiking and overcoming my fear of heights and bridges, all at once.

Carmel Meadows Park. I hope the answer was YES!

Gorgeous! I love that the rock looks like a cat.

One of a zillion lizard friends.

Gaaahhh! So beautiful! It was foggy when we started out, it only lifted when we headed back north.

These beautiful succulent flowers were everywhere and then look! A morning glory, just like at home!

Okay, first scenic overlook off Hwy 1. As you can see it is foggy, which is probably good because we are WAY THE HELL UP THERE ON A CLIFF, as I discovered later.

Yeah, that's high up when the fog is a little clearer

That's the road. I will not lie, there was some serious hyperventilating happening.

Second scenic overlook. That is where I stood...

And THAT is what you see when you look straight down through the fog. GULP

Hmmm, the road isn't feeling more secure the further south we went...

The mountain trail to the beach at Andrew Moleta State Park. There were serious warnings about mountain lions, and I started wondering why we insisted on being somewhere that while beautiful, was able to kill us pretty handily.

We made it to the beach! This part felt a little ho-hum and we were initially disappointed.

Getting better...

So happy to be hiking on the beach together!

What the what? We found a sandy little lime green frog. We looked it up, it's probably a Baja Tree Frog, in a place with absolutely ZERO trees.

Hi little green crab!

Okay, THIS is much more like what we were expecting! And the fog is headed out.

A stop on the way back north, you couldn't get down there but it sure was beautiful.

Uh, so this is NOT what you want to see when on a highway that has a hairpin turn around that bend that is canyon on either side. We were stuck for a little while, and it turned out a Porsche convertible had gone over the right side of the road. It was on a tow truck with a winch. It did not look like it was a happy ending. It was a sobering moment.

At Soberanes Point, is that not gorgeous!

Little waterfall heading down...

And the stream headed out to sea.

It was full of these gorgeous little coves.

You could hear seals or sea lions AURGH-ing, probably from that rock way out there.

Every turn held more beautiful coves! 

Bryce on the bridge over the waterfall

The mark of a great day of California hiking -- ridiculously dusty, dirty legs and feet.

So that was Carmel-by-the-Sea. I would totally, absolutely come here again for a vacation. It was just spectacular, all the way around.


Next up: The Pasadena and Family Visit Leg