Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Soul(o) Vacation

"Now that she's back from that soul vacation
 tracing her way through the constellation
Hey, hey, hey..."

Feel free to press play and listen while you read. ;)

A couple of months ago, I found out that I would be representing my company at the ASCD Conference in Los Angeles in March 2014. Anyone who knows me (or follows my blog) knows that I LOVE Southern California (well, San Diego/Orange Counties...L.A., not so much). As soon as I heard I was headed out west, a light bulb went off above my head. California? In the springtime? The Flower Fields in bloom? Ooooooh! I saw an opportunity to to cross something off of my "Bucket List." But could I do it? Could I travel to Los Angeles alone? Rent a car alone? Drive to San Diego alone? Stay by myself in a hotel for a couple of nights alone?

You might be thinking, "What's the big deal?! You're 43 years old for goodness sake!" Well, up to this point, I had never done anything like that. I met my husband when I was just 18 years old (he was 25 and had already traveled the world windsurfing on the U.S. Boardsailing Team). I lived with my parents while I went to college and got married just a few weeks after I graduated. Up until I started my current job, the only places I had ever traveled to by myself were my sister's house in Georgia and a day trip to Sanibel/Captiva to go shelling. I really wanted to do this, though. 

I asked Rob if he would mind if I took a couple of days for myself in California and he told me to "Go for it! Get out there and LIVE!" So that's just what I did. Normally, I plan our family vacations so that we have something to do and/or someplace to be each day so that nobody gets bored. Since I was the only one going, I didn't really go with much of a game plan. I knew I wanted to catch a couple of sunsets at the beach and I knew I wanted to visit The Flower Fields. I knew I had to be in L.A. by Friday afternoon to set up for the show. Other than that, my days were wide open.

The view from The Flower Fields - Carlsbad and the Pacific Ocean
I flew into Los Angeles on a Wednesday afternoon, rented a car and headed south to Carlsbad. Traffic, as expected, was a complete nightmare in L.A. Normally traffic stresses me out, but I wasn't going to let this ruin my vacation. After all, I knew what I was in for. Incidentally, the evil GPS did everything in it's power to get me lost, but I ignored it and listened to, "Keep right and take the exit." about a dozen times before it finally realized I was not listening. I just cranked up the radio and sang like nobody was listening (because nobody was). I knew that sunset was at 6:58 p.m., and I had hoped to make it to my hotel in Carlsbad a little before then. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a toll-road through Orange County that enabled me to make it to the hotel by 6:30. Best $6.75 I ever spent (and the toll-taker looked a lot like Chumley from Pawn Stars). 

I enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the bluff overlooking the Pacific across from my hotel. The temperature had dropped quite a bit, and I hadn't brought a jacket with me, so I was literally shivering while I was taking photos. A very nice man who was vacationing from Arizona insisted that I take his jacket. Being from Arizona, I know he was cold too, but it was very sweet of him to offer it to me. :)

I really had only one full day (Thursday) to myself, and I was determined to make the most of it. I was a little disappointed to see that it was overcast (I thought the "gloom" didn't start until June!) I was still on East Coast time, so I headed out early to see the seals at Children's Beach in La Jolla Cove. There were tons of seals there, including white seals, which I had never seen before. I had plans to meet a friend for breakfast, so I knew I needed to start heading back north. The GPS (damn it!) somehow got unplugged and shut down right before the turn I was supposed to take. Naturally, there was no U-Turn and I ended up getting on the freeway and going about 10 miles out of the way. Again...NOT letting the GPS ruin my vacation...I managed to make it back to the PCH and to Cardiff-by-the-Sea for an awesome breakfast with my friend, Eric. The clouds had started to dissipate and the sun was starting to come out.

After breakfast, I headed north on the PCH and hit a couple of shops in Encinitas/Leucadia that I love. Then, I decided it was time to head to The Flower Fields. I fully understand that very few people get excited about going to look at flowers (my family would surely have been bored to death), but after seeing acres and acres of dirt the past few times I've visited Carlsbad (in the summer and fall), I was eager to see the fields in bloom. 

The Flower Fields are only open in March and April. Since it was so early in the season, only about 25% of the plants were in bloom. I had to walk a little ways to the fields that had color, but I needed to walk off the ginormous breakfast burrito that I had for breakfast anyway. The walk was absolutely worth it. Row after row of beautiful, colorful ranunculuses (ranunculi?). Although the growers attempted to keep the rows of color uniform, here and there you would see evidence of a little cross-pollination. (There are plenty of bumble bees in Southern California to accomplish that!) Field workers go through each row and snip off dead blossoms and stems to keep the fields looking fresh. It was amazing and the perfect place to be in the spring! You can see the ocean from the fields too, which made it seem even more amazing.

After walking through The Flower Fields, I visited the Cymbidium greenhouse, where hundreds of orchids are grown. They were absolutely gorgeous. There is also a rose test garden, where some of the roses were as big as my hand! Many other types of flowers are on display at The Flower Fields too. With nobody there to tell me to stop taking pictures, I just snapped away.

After The Flower Fields, I decided I'd take a walk on the beach. By the time I went back to the hotel to change, the sky was a brilliant blue (California blue sky! If you've seen it, you get it!). The beach is just across the PCH from the hotel, but there is a steep bluff that is very difficult to navigate, so I decided to walk a half-mile down the PCH to a place where I could easily access the beach, then walk back up toward the hotel. It was low tide and there were smooth, colorful stones everywhere. The beach in California is very different from our beaches here in Florida. In all of my past trips, I have never found shells in California. I asked Eric about it and he said that they have such strong wave action there that there aren't many to be found. This time, however, was different. Among the stones and kelp, I found a few California treasures, including colorful scallop shells and a few spiral seashells too!

My first attempted route up the bluff
I made it back to the bluff across the street from my hotel and wondered if I could climb it so I didn't have to walk back down the beach. There is really no "path", just narrow valleys in the hard-packed sand. I decided to venture up one of them. After a few yards, I encountered a bunch of cacti. (Yes, there are cacti on the beach in California!), so I backed up. I found another route that, although narrow, seemed to be cactus-free and I started climbing. About 2/3 of the way up, I found an old oil drum blocking my way. I couldn't crawl under it, and i really didn't really want to go back down, then walk down the beach. I decided to give myself an impromptu fitness test. With my feet planted on either side of the valley, I pulled myself up over the barrel and kept climbing! (Thanks, Jillian!) A few minutes later, I made it to the top. I was so excited, I was ready to plant a flag. ;) A couple of kids were riding bikes by when I threw my leg over the the top of the bluff and hoisted myself up. They were kind enough not to laugh at me (at least until they passed by). There was a guy sitting in the lifeguard stand at the top of the bluff, reading "The Catcher in the Rye" (I assume on a break from work). I looked at him and said, "Well, that could have gone horribly wrong!" He laughed and told me he'd been watching me. Lucky for me, he didn't have to call 911! Turns out, he was from Oceanside, where I had planned to go that evening. He told me about a few places to check out. (California people are so NICE!)

Later that evening, I drove up to Oceanside, managed to parallel park on the busy Pacific Coast Highway at rush hour (woo-hoo!) and strolled the Oceanside Sunset Market. I saw that two of my favorite spots to visit in Oceanside - the California Surf Museum and the Longboarder Cafe - both had moved to beautiful new locations. I bought goodies for my kids (even though Alana didn't really like the narwhal t-shirt I bought her ~ who wouldn't love something with a narwhal on it?!) and had a chance to see the pier and beach in Oceanside, which are beautiful. I also found a nice house for sale facing the ocean for a cool $1.995 million. ;) Hey, a girl can dream.

I made it back to the hotel in time for another amazing sunset. This time, I was prepared for the temperature drop...I bought myself a "Cali Love" (how appropriate - on many levels) sweatshirt in Oceanside. ;) I thought about ending my perfect day with a dinner of Kona Pie at Islands, but reconsidered and had vegetable soup and a Pacifico cerveza at the hotel instead. Overall, it had been an absolutely amazing day! I got to cross visiting The Flower Fields in spring off my bucket list (although I hope to return someday), visit with an old friend, take a walk on the beach where I found shells for the first time in California, and enjoy a beautiful sunset. It was the first day in as long as I can remember that I didn't have to worry about anything or anyone. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. I could take as many pictures as my heart desired (and I did). Truly, I loved every minute of it and I was very thankful that I had the opportunity to experience it!

Huntington Beach ~ Surf City USA
I woke up the next morning to clear skies and the sun coming up over the mountains outside the hotel window. My "soul vacation" was just about over, but I took my time returning to L.A., stopping at San Onofre (where there were virtually NO waves...not a great place for "Surfin' USA", although there were a lot of guys out there surfing what they could), Laguna Beach, a quick side-trip to Balboa Island (mistake!), and another one of my favorite cities, Huntington Beach, where I wandered around the Friday market. Once I transitioned from Orange County to Los Angeles County, the party was definitely over. 

By the time I dropped off my rental car at LAX, set up for the convention and made it back to the hotel, an intense wave of homesickness came over me. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. One day earlier, I had a seemingly perfect day of carefree living in one of my very favorite places on Earth, but deep-down in my soul, I knew that without those nearest and dearest to my heart by my side, I could never be truly happy. As much as I love California (and I DO love California), I love my family even more!

So, on my "soul vacation," I did feel like I "sailed across the sun" and "danced along the light of day"...

Downtown L.A. skyline
A clear California night can make you feel like you've "made it to the Milky Way to see the lights are faded..." (though I don't think Heaven is overrated)

I did not "fall for a shooting star..." (though I think he's an awesome guy). ;)

But yes, Rob, I most certainly did "miss while [I] was looking for [my]self out there."

Na na na na na na nanananaaaaaaah... ;)

With Love and Aloha,

Stay tuned for "Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition" ;)