On December 19th, I left cold Beijing and headed to chilly California for two weeks. I started off in L.A. where Naysan picked me up at the airport and I got to spend some quality time with him, Catherine, and Kian.
Next, I saw my mom's side of the family for our Christmas gathering at Uncle Mark's house. We had four generations of relatives there from Great Aunt Pat and Great Uncle Burl down to the newest additions - Mikhail, Kian, and Isla. It was the first time I had met Isla because she was born the day before I left for China. It was great spending time with everyone!
In southern California, I also visited my Great Aunt Audrey (Uncle Earle was running errands so we missed him), Great Aunt Burneal, and long time friend Emily.
Daniel and I drove up north to spend time with my dad's side of the family next. Again, it was wonderful to see everyone and relax at home for awhile. In addition to all the family I saw, I also spent time with my northern California friends. Prunie came up with us as well.
I had lunch with Nikki and her little girl, Isabella.
I got to spend a lot (not enough) time with Gary and Mariah and their girls, Gracie and Addison.
My favorite part of the whole trip was our hike up to Big Rock. Our family has been doing this hike since the mid-80's but my siblings and I haven't come up for quite a while. We brought along four cousins for their first time up to Big Rock. It is about a four hour hike round trip. The cousins we brought ranged from 5th grade down to Trevor, a four-year-old. The kids all did great and I imagined my dad and uncles taking my siblings and I up there when we were about that age.
We had to take the long way around since the steep, slick rock face didn't look very good for bringing kids up. We eventually made it to the cave and the mailbox was still there with all the books from past hikers. In the books, we found entries as far back as 1981 and entries from my family back in 1986. Nate had an entry from 1997 which he wrote in Japanese. It was fun reading the entries and adding new entries to the new book Uncle Joe added to the mailbox. After we had our snack of cheese and crackers, apples, chocolate, and wine, we headed back.
We found a rope which came in very handy getting the kids back down that steep, slick rock face. We tied each of them up and slowly helped each one get down.
Joe found a tree where he said my siblings and I had taken a picture when we were little so we decided to put the cousins on the big branch for another sibling picture. Unfortunately, the kids spotted the ants and I don't think we ended up getting a picture that didn't have a terrified looking child in it.
My favorite tree on the hike was the biggest Manzanita I've ever seen. We all fit under it for a picture toward the end of our hike. Lexi demonstrated her fantastic trail finding skills and led us back to our cars.
New Year's Eve was fun, hanging out with my friend Brandy and her husband and their friends. On New Year's Day, I finished up the shopping I wanted to do and stuffed everything back into my suitcases.
On January 2nd, I said goodbye to San Francisco and flew back to Beijing for another six months. It was a great trip home.
More to come soon.
There will be many more pictures on my flickr site soon, but probably not until after I return from my next trip (to the Philippines).